Nouns (4)

carry, cost of carry, net financing cost
n. the difference between the amount needed to finance an investment and its cash yield; "A positive net financing cost reflects the profit made over the financing costs."
n. the act of carrying something

Verbs (43)

extend, carry
v. continue or extend; "The civil war carried into the neighboring province"; "The disease extended into the remote mountain provinces"
v. sing or play against other voices or parts; "He cannot carry a tune"
v. be successful in; "She lost the game but carried the match"
v. secure the passage or adoption (of bills and motions); "The motion carried easily"
v. cover a certain distance or advance beyond; "The drive carried to the green"
v. have a certain range; "This rifle carries for 3,000 feet"
v. be able to feed; "This land will carry ten cows to the acre"
v. bear or be able to bear the weight, pressure,or responsibility of; "His efforts carried the entire project"; "How many credits is this student carrying?"; "We carry a very large mortgage"
v. propel or give impetus to; "The sudden gust of air propelled the ball to the other side of the fence"
v. transfer (a number, cipher, or remainder) to the next column or unit's place before or after, in addition or multiplication; "put down 5 and carry 2"
bear, hold, carry
v. support or hold in a certain manner; "She holds her head high"; "He carried himself upright"
have a bun in the oven, expect, gestate, carry, bear
v. be pregnant with; "She is bearing his child"; "The are expecting another child in January"; "I am carrying his child"
carry, run
v. include as the content; broadcast or publicize; "We ran the ad three times"; "This paper carries a restaurant review"; "All major networks carried the press conference"
v. pursue a line of scent or be a bearer; "the dog was taught to fetch and carry"
channel, carry, convey, transmit, conduct, impart
v. transmit or serve as the medium for transmission; "Sound carries well over water"; "The airwaves carry the sound"; "Many metals conduct heat"
v. have or possess something abstract; "I carry her image in my mind's eye"; "I will carry the secret to my grave"; "I carry these thoughts in the back of my head"; "I carry a lot of life insurance"
v. capture after a fight; "The troops carried the town after a brief fight"
bear, carry, hold
v. support or hold in a certain manner; "She holds her head high"; "He carried himself upright"
v. extend to a certain degree; "carry too far"; "She carries her ideas to the extreme"
v. compensate for a weaker partner or member by one's own performance; "I resent having to carry her all the time"
v. be necessarily associated with or result in or involve; "This crime carries a penalty of five years in prison"
contain, carry, bear, hold
v. contain or hold; have within; "The jar carries wine"; "The canteen holds fresh water"; "This can contains water"
v. have on the surface or on the skin; "carry scars"
v. include, as on a list; "How many people are carried on the payroll?"
v. cover a certain distance or advance beyond; "The drive carried to the green"

Adverbs (0)

There are no items for this category

Adjectives (0)

There are no items for this category

Fuzzynyms (294)

funding, financing
n. the act of financing
v. look forward to the birth of a child; "She is expecting in March"
v. look forward to the birth of a child; "She is expecting in March"
v. look forward to the birth of a child; "She is expecting in March"
v. look forward to the birth of a child; "She is expecting in March"
v. look forward to the birth of a child; "She is expecting in March"
v. look forward to the birth of a child; "She is expecting in March"
touch on, bear on, bear upon, touch, impact, affect
v. have an effect upon; "Will the new rules affect me?"
take away, remove
v. get rid of something abstract; "The death of her mother removed the last obstacle to their marriage"; "God takes away your sins"
hack on, hack
v. fix a computer program piecemeal until it works; "I'm not very good at hacking but I'll give it my best"
v. have a tolerance for a poison or strong drug or pathogen or environmental condition; "The patient does not tolerate the anti-inflammatory drugs we gave him"
set aside, reserve, earmark, appropriate, allow
v. give or assign a resource to a particular person or cause; "I will earmark this money for your research"; "She sets aside time for meditation every day"
v. pass along; "Please relay the news to the villagers"
v. pass along; "Please relay the news to the villagers"
prevail upon, prevail on
v. "He prevailed upon her to visit his parents"
pass around, circularise, circularize, disperse, diffuse, spread, broadcast, propagate, disseminate, distribute, circulate
v. cause to become widely known; "spread information"; "circulate a rumor"; "broadcast the news"
v. transmit a title or property
v. transmit a title or property
v. transmit a title or property
v. transmit a title or property
v. transmit a title or property
cater, ply, supply, provide
v. give what is desired or needed, especially support, food or sustenance; "The hostess provided lunch for all the guests"
get hold of, take
v. get into one's hands, take physically; "Take a cookie!"; "Can you take this bag, please"
v. have internal elements or parts logically connected so that aesthetic consistency results; "the principles by which societies cohere"
hack, chop
v. cut with a hacking tool
v. cut away; "he hacked his way through the forest"
v. squeeze together
v. move while holding up or supporting; "Bear gifts"; "bear a heavy load"; "bear news"; "bearing orders"
v. move while holding up or supporting; "Bear gifts"; "bear a heavy load"; "bear news"; "bearing orders"
v. take away or remove; "The devil will fetch you!"
v. take away or remove; "The devil will fetch you!"
v. take away or remove; "The devil will fetch you!"
v. take away or remove; "The devil will fetch you!"
v. take away or remove; "The devil will fetch you!"
v. take away or remove; "The devil will fetch you!"
bring, take
v. take something or somebody with oneself somewhere; "Bring me the box from the other room"; "Take these letters to the boss"; "This brings me to the main point"
bring, take
v. take something or somebody with oneself somewhere; "Bring me the box from the other room"; "Take these letters to the boss"; "This brings me to the main point"
bring, take
v. take something or somebody with oneself somewhere; "Bring me the box from the other room"; "Take these letters to the boss"; "This brings me to the main point"
bring, take
v. take something or somebody with oneself somewhere; "Bring me the box from the other room"; "Take these letters to the boss"; "This brings me to the main point"
bring, take
v. take something or somebody with oneself somewhere; "Bring me the box from the other room"; "Take these letters to the boss"; "This brings me to the main point"
bring, take
v. take something or somebody with oneself somewhere; "Bring me the box from the other room"; "Take these letters to the boss"; "This brings me to the main point"
channelise, channelize, channel, transport, transfer, transmit
v. send from one person or place to another; "transmit a message"
v. transfer (a number, cipher, or remainder) to the next column or unit's place before or after, in addition or multiplication; "put down 5 and carry 2"
v. transfer (a number, cipher, or remainder) to the next column or unit's place before or after, in addition or multiplication; "put down 5 and carry 2"
v. transfer (a number, cipher, or remainder) to the next column or unit's place before or after, in addition or multiplication; "put down 5 and carry 2"
v. transfer (a number, cipher, or remainder) to the next column or unit's place before or after, in addition or multiplication; "put down 5 and carry 2"
v. transfer (a number, cipher, or remainder) to the next column or unit's place before or after, in addition or multiplication; "put down 5 and carry 2"
v. drag behind; "Horses used to tow barges along the canal"
v. use a computer mouse to move icons on the screen and select commands from a menu; "drag this icon to the lower right hand corner of the screen"
stack up, heap up, pile up
v. arrange into piles or stacks; "She piled up her books in my living room"
run, go, operate, work, function
v. perform as expected when applied; "The washing machine won't go unless it's plugged in"; "Does this old car still run well?"; "This old radio doesn't work anymore"
bear, hold, carry
v. support or hold in a certain manner; "She holds her head high"; "He carried himself upright"
bear, hold, carry
v. support or hold in a certain manner; "She holds her head high"; "He carried himself upright"
bear, hold, carry
v. support or hold in a certain manner; "She holds her head high"; "He carried himself upright"
bear, hold, carry
v. support or hold in a certain manner; "She holds her head high"; "He carried himself upright"
bear, hold, carry
v. support or hold in a certain manner; "She holds her head high"; "He carried himself upright"
show, render, depict, picture
v. show in, or as in, a picture; "This scene depicts country life"; "the face of the child is rendered with much tenderness in this painting"
ask for, invite
v. increase the likelihood of; "ask for trouble"; "invite criticism"
v. transport from one place to another
v. transport commercially as cargo
v. let fall to the ground; "Don't drop the dishes"
v. to travel behind, go after, come after; "The ducklings followed their mother around the pond"; "Please follow the guide through the museum"
arrive at, gain, hit, attain, make, reach
v. reach a destination, either real or abstract; "We hit Detroit by noon"; "The water reached the doorstep"; "We barely made it to the finish line"; "I have to hit the MAC machine before the weekend starts"
v. come together, usually for a purpose; "The crowds congregated in front of the Vatican on Christmas Eve"
v. go or travel along with; "The nurse accompanied the old lady everywhere"
filter, dribble, trickle
v. run or flow slowly, as in drops or in an unsteady stream; "water trickled onto the lawn from the broken hose"; "reports began to dribble in"
take, convey, bring
v. take something or somebody with oneself somewhere; "Bring me the box from the other room"; "Take these letters to the boss"; "This brings me to the main point"
take, convey, bring
v. take something or somebody with oneself somewhere; "Bring me the box from the other room"; "Take these letters to the boss"; "This brings me to the main point"
take, convey, bring
v. take something or somebody with oneself somewhere; "Bring me the box from the other room"; "Take these letters to the boss"; "This brings me to the main point"
take, convey, bring
v. take something or somebody with oneself somewhere; "Bring me the box from the other room"; "Take these letters to the boss"; "This brings me to the main point"
channel, carry, convey, transmit, conduct, impart
v. transmit or serve as the medium for transmission; "Sound carries well over water"; "The airwaves carry the sound"; "Many metals conduct heat"
channel, carry, convey, transmit, conduct, impart
v. transmit or serve as the medium for transmission; "Sound carries well over water"; "The airwaves carry the sound"; "Many metals conduct heat"
channel, carry, convey, transmit, conduct, impart
v. transmit or serve as the medium for transmission; "Sound carries well over water"; "The airwaves carry the sound"; "Many metals conduct heat"
channel, carry, convey, transmit, conduct, impart
v. transmit or serve as the medium for transmission; "Sound carries well over water"; "The airwaves carry the sound"; "Many metals conduct heat"
channel, carry, convey, transmit, conduct, impart
v. transmit or serve as the medium for transmission; "Sound carries well over water"; "The airwaves carry the sound"; "Many metals conduct heat"
endure, suffer
v. undergo or be subjected to; "He suffered the penalty"; "Many saints suffered martyrdom"
meet, suffer
v. undergo or suffer; "meet a violent death"; "suffer a terrible fate"
possess, have, own
v. have ownership or possession of; "He owns three houses in Florida"; "How many cars does she have?"
preserve, save
v. to keep up and reserve for personal or special use; "She saved the old family photographs in a drawer"
v. move from one place to another; "transfer the data"; "transmit the news"; "transfer the patient to another hospital"
v. move from one place to another; "transfer the data"; "transmit the news"; "transfer the patient to another hospital"
v. move from one place to another; "transfer the data"; "transmit the news"; "transfer the patient to another hospital"
v. move from one place to another; "transfer the data"; "transmit the news"; "transfer the patient to another hospital"
v. move from one place to another; "transfer the data"; "transmit the news"; "transfer the patient to another hospital"
v. move from one place to another; "transfer the data"; "transmit the news"; "transfer the patient to another hospital"
save up, lay aside, save
v. accumulate money for future use; "He saves half his salary"
v. spend less; buy at a reduced price
book, hold, reserve
v. arrange for and reserve (something for someone else) in advance; "reserve me a seat on a flight"; "The agent booked tickets to the show for the whole family"; "please hold a table at Maxim's"
pile up, roll up, hoard, compile, amass, accumulate, collect
v. get or gather together; "I am accumulating evidence for the man's unfaithfulness to his wife"; "She is amassing a lot of data for her thesis"; "She rolled up a small fortune"
squirrel away, hive up, lay away, cache, stash, hoard
v. save up as for future use
bank, deposit
v. put into a bank account; "She deposits her paycheck every month"
pay for, invite
v. have as a guest; "I invited them to a restaurant"
take care, mind
v. be in charge of or deal with; "She takes care of all the necessary arrangements"
chairman, chair
v. act or preside as chair, as of an academic department in a university; "She chaired the department for many years"
manage, superintend, supervise, oversee
v. watch and direct; "Who is overseeing this project?"
v. act as president; "preside over companies and corporations"
carry on, deal, conduct
v. direct the course of; manage or control; "You cannot conduct business like this"
force, pressure, squeeze, hale, coerce
v. to cause to do through pressure or necessity, by physical, moral or intellectual means :"She forced him to take a job in the city"; "He squeezed her for information"
bear, carry, hold
v. support or hold in a certain manner; "She holds her head high"; "He carried himself upright"
bear, carry, hold
v. support or hold in a certain manner; "She holds her head high"; "He carried himself upright"
bear, carry, hold
v. support or hold in a certain manner; "She holds her head high"; "He carried himself upright"
bear, carry, hold
v. support or hold in a certain manner; "She holds her head high"; "He carried himself upright"
bear, carry, hold
v. support or hold in a certain manner; "She holds her head high"; "He carried himself upright"
act, work
v. have an effect or outcome; often the one desired or expected; "The voting process doesn't work as well as people thought"; "How does your idea work in practice?"; "This method doesn't work"; "The breaks of my new car act quickly"; "The medicine works only if you take it with a lot of water"
cope with, match, meet
v. satisfy or fulfill; "meet a need"; "this job doesn't match my dreams"
v. be in some specified state or condition; "I stand corrected"
feature, have
v. have as a feature; "This restaurant features the most famous chefs in France"
v. have as an attribute, knowledge, or skill; "he possesses great knowledge about the Middle East"
cooccur, co-occur, coincide
v. go with, fall together
contain, carry, bear, hold
v. contain or hold; have within; "The jar carries wine"; "The canteen holds fresh water"; "This can contains water"
contain, carry, bear, hold
v. contain or hold; have within; "The jar carries wine"; "The canteen holds fresh water"; "This can contains water"
contain, carry, bear, hold
v. contain or hold; have within; "The jar carries wine"; "The canteen holds fresh water"; "This can contains water"
contain, carry, bear, hold
v. contain or hold; have within; "The jar carries wine"; "The canteen holds fresh water"; "This can contains water"
contain, carry, bear, hold
v. contain or hold; have within; "The jar carries wine"; "The canteen holds fresh water"; "This can contains water"
fit, accommodate, suit
v. be agreeable or acceptable to; "This suits my needs"
antecede, antedate, forgo, forego, precede, predate
v. be earlier in time; go back further; "Stone tools precede bronze tools"
v. have on the surface or on the skin; "carry scars"
v. have on the surface or on the skin; "carry scars"
v. have on the surface or on the skin; "carry scars"
v. have on the surface or on the skin; "carry scars"
v. have on the surface or on the skin; "carry scars"
forbear, refrain
v. resist doing something; "He refrained from hitting him back"; "she could not forbear weeping"
n. [the profession of managing business relationships between a bank and any department and a customer]

Synonyms (4)

bear out, support, underpin, corroborate
v. support with evidence or authority or make more certain or confirm; "The stories and claims were born out by the evidence"

Antonyms (2)

practice, commit
v. engage in or perform; "practice safe sex"; "commit a random act of kindness"


car (or automobile) is a wheeled motor vehicle used for transportation. Most definitions of car say they run primarily on roads, seat one to eight people, have four tires, and mainly transport people rather than goods.[2][3] Cars came into global use during the 20th century, and developed economies depend on them. The year 1886 is regarded as the birth year of the modern car when German inventor Karl Benz patented his Benz Patent-Motorwagen. Cars became widely available in the early 20th century. One of the first cars that were accessible to the masses was the 1908 Model T, an American car manufactured by the Ford Motor Company. Cars were rapidly adopted in the US, where they replaced animal-drawn carriages and carts, but took much longer to be accepted in Western Europe and other parts of the world.

Cars have controls for driving, parking, passenger comfort and safety, and controlling a variety of lights. Over the decades, additional features and controls have been added to vehicles, making them progressively more complex. Examples include rear reversing cameras, air conditioning, navigation systems, and in car entertainment. Most cars in use in the 2010s are propelled by an internal combustion engine, fueled by the combustion of fossil fuels. This causes air pollution and also contributes to climate change and global warming.[4] Vehicles using alternative fuels such as ethanol flexible-fuel vehicles and natural gas vehicles are also gaining popularity in some countries. Electric cars, which were invented early in the history of the car, began to become commercially available in 2008.

There are costs and benefits to car use. The costs include acquiring the vehicle, interest payments (if the car is financed), repairs and maintenance, fuel, depreciation, driving time, parking fees, taxes, and insurance.[5] The costs to society include maintaining roads, land use, road congestion, air pollution, public health, health care, and disposing of the vehicle at the end of its life. Road traffic accidents are the largest cause of injury-related deaths worldwide.[6]

The benefits include on-demand transportation, mobility, independence, and convenience.[7] The societal benefits include economic benefits, such as job and wealth creation from the automotive industry, transportation provision, societal well-being from leisure and travel opportunities, and revenue generation from the taxes. The ability for people to move flexibly from place to place has far-reaching implications for the nature of societies.[8] It was estimated in 2014 that the number of cars was over 1.25 billion vehicles,[9] up from the 500 million of 1986.[10] The numbers are increasing rapidly, especially in China, India and other newly industrialized countries.[11]



The word car is believed to originate from the Latin word carrus or carrum ("wheeled vehicle"), or the Middle English word carre (meaning "two-wheel cart", from Old North French). In turn, these originated from the Gaulish word karros (a Gallic chariot).[12][13] It originally referred to any wheeled horse-drawn vehicle, such as a cart, carriage, or wagon.[14][15] "Motor car" is attested from 1895, and is the usual formal name for cars in British English.[3] "Autocar" is a variant that is also attested from 1895, but that is now considered archaic. It literally means "self-propelled car".[16] The term "horseless carriage" was used by some to refer to the first cars at the time that they were being built, and is attested from 1895.[17]

The word "automobile" is a classical compound derived from the Ancient Greek word autós (αὐτός), meaning "self", and the Latin word mobilis, meaning "movable". It entered the English language from French, and was first adopted by the Automobile Club of Great Britain in 1897.[18] Over time, the word "automobile" fell out of favour in Britain, and was replaced by "motor car". "Automobile" remains chiefly North American, particularly as a formal or commercial term.[19] An abbreviated form, "auto", was formerly a common way to refer to cars in English, but is now considered old-fashioned. The word is still very common as an adjective in American English, usually in compound formations like "auto industry" and "auto mechanic".[20][21] In Dutch and German, two languages historically related to English, the abbreviated form "auto" (Dutch) / "Auto" (German), as well as the formal full version "automobiel" (Dutch) / "Automobil" (German) are still used — in either the short form is the most regular word for "car".


The first working steam-powered vehicle was designed — and quite possibly built — by Ferdinand Verbiest, a Flemish member of a Jesuit mission in China around 1672. It was a 65-cm-long scale-model toy for the Chinese Emperor that was unable to carry a driver or a passenger.[7][22][23] It is not known with certainty if Verbiest's model was successfully built or ran.[23]

Cugnot's 1771 fardier à vapeur, as preserved at the Musée des Arts et Métiers, Paris

Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot is widely credited with building the first full-scale, self-propelled mechanical vehicle or car in about 1769; he created a steam-powered tricycle.[24] He also constructed two steam tractors for the French Army, one of which is preserved in the French National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts.[25] His inventions were, however, handicapped by problems with water supply and maintaining steam pressure.[25] In 1801, Richard Trevithick built and demonstrated his Puffing Devil road locomotive, believed by many to be the first demonstration of a steam-powered road vehicle. It was unable to maintain sufficient steam pressure for long periods, and was of little practical use.

The development of external combustion engines is detailed as part of the history of the car, but often treated separately from the development of true cars. A variety of steam-powered road vehicles were used during the first part of the 19th century, including steam cars, steam buses, phaetons, and steam rollers. Sentiment against them led to the Locomotive Acts of 1865.

In 1807, Nicéphore Niépce and his brother Claude created what was probably the world's first internal combustion engine (which they called a Pyréolophore), but they chose to install it in a boat on the river Saone in France.[26] Coincidentally, in 1807 the Swiss inventor François Isaac de Rivaz designed his own 'de Rivaz internal combustion engine' and used it to develop the world's first vehicle to be powered by such an engine. The Niépces' Pyréolophore was fuelled by a mixture of Lycopodium powder (dried spores of the Lycopodium plant), finely crushed coal dust and resin that were mixed with oil, whereas de Rivaz used a mixture of hydrogen and oxygen.[26] Neither design was very successful, as was the case with others, such as Samuel Brown, Samuel Morey, and Etienne Lenoir with his hippomobile, who each produced vehicles (usually adapted carriages or carts) powered by internal combustion engines.[1]

Gustave Trouvé's tricycle, the first ever electric automobile to be shown in public
Karl Benz, the inventor of the modern car

In November 1881, French inventor Gustave Trouvé demonstrated the first working (three-wheeled) car powered by electricity at the International Exposition of Electricity, Paris.[27] Although several other German engineers (including Gottlieb Daimler, Wilhelm Maybach, and Siegfried Marcus) were working on the problem at about the same time, Karl Benz generally is acknowledged as the inventor of the modern car.[1]

The original Benz Patent-Motorwagen, first built in 1885 and awarded the patent for the concept

In 1879, Benz was granted a patent for his first engine, which had been designed in 1878. Many of his other inventions made the use of the internal combustion engine feasible for powering a vehicle. His first Motorwagen was built in 1885 in Mannheim, Germany. He was awarded the patent for its invention as of his application on 29 January 1886 (under the auspices of his major company, Benz & Cie., which was founded in 1883). Benz began promotion of the vehicle on 3 July 1886, and about 25 Benz vehicles were sold between 1888 and 1893, when his first four-wheeler was introduced along with a model intended for affordability. They also were powered with four-stroke engines of his own design. Emile Roger of France, already producing Benz engines under license, now added the Benz car to his line of products. Because France was more open to the early cars, initially more were built and sold in France through Roger than Benz sold in Germany. In August 1888 Bertha Benz, the wife of Karl Benz, undertook the first road trip by car, to prove the road-worthiness of her husband's invention.

Bertha Benz, the first long distance driver

In 1896, Benz designed and patented the first internal-combustion flat engine, called boxermotor. During the last years of the nineteenth century, Benz was the largest car company in the world with 572 units produced in 1899 and, because of its size, Benz & Cie., became a joint-stock company. The first motor car in central Europe and one of the first factory-made cars in the world, was produced by Czech company Nesselsdorfer Wagenbau (later renamed to Tatra) in 1897, the Präsident automobil.

Daimler and Maybach founded Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft (DMG) in Cannstatt in 1890, and sold their first car in 1892 under the brand name Daimler. It was a horse-drawn stagecoach built by another manufacturer, which they retrofitted with an engine of their design. By 1895 about 30 vehicles had been built by Daimler and Maybach, either at the Daimler works or in the Hotel Hermann, where they set up shop after disputes with their backers. Benz, Maybach and the Daimler team seem to have been unaware of each other's early work. They never worked together; by the time of the merger of the two companies, Daimler and Maybach were no longer part of DMG. Daimler died in 1900 and later that year, Maybach designed an engine named Daimler-Mercedes that was placed in a specially ordered model built to specifications set by Emil Jellinek. This was a production of a small number of vehicles for Jellinek to race and market in his country. Two years later, in 1902, a new model DMG car was produced and the model was named Mercedes after the Maybach engine, which generated 35 hp. Maybach quit DMG shortly thereafter and opened a business of his own. Rights to the Daimler brand name were sold to other manufacturers.

Karl Benz proposed co-operation between DMG and Benz & Cie. when economic conditions began to deteriorate in Germany following the First World War, but the directors of DMG refused to consider it initially. Negotiations between the two companies resumed several years later when these conditions worsened and, in 1924 they signed an Agreement of Mutual Interest, valid until the year 2000. Both enterprises standardized design, production, purchasing, and sales and they advertised or marketed their car models jointly, although keeping their respective brands. On 28 June 1926, Benz & Cie. and DMG finally merged as the Daimler-Benz company, baptizing all of its cars Mercedes Benz, as a brand honoring the most important model of the DMG cars, the Maybach design later referred to as the 1902 Mercedes-35 hp, along with the Benz name. Karl Benz remained a member of the board of directors of Daimler-Benz until his death in 1929, and at times his two sons also participated in the management of the company.

Émile Levassor
Armand Peugeot

In 1890, Émile Levassor and Armand Peugeot of France began producing vehicles with Daimler engines, and so laid the foundation of the automotive industry in France. In 1891, Auguste Doriot and his Peugeot colleague Louis Rigoulot completed the longest trip by a gasoline-powered vehicle when their self-designed and built Daimler powered Peugeot Type 3 completed 2,100 km (1,300 miles) from Valentigney to Paris and Brest and back again. They were attached to the first Paris–Brest–Paris bicycle race, but finished 6 days after the winning cyclist, Charles Terront.

The first design for an American car with a gasoline internal combustion engine was made in 1877 by George Selden of Rochester, New York. Selden applied for a patent for a car in 1879, but the patent application expired because the vehicle was never built. After a delay of sixteen years and a series of attachments to his application, on 5 November 1895, Selden was granted a United States patent (U.S. Patent 549,160) for a two-stroke car engine, which hindered, more than encouraged, development of cars in the United States. His patent was challenged by Henry Ford and others, and overturned in 1911.

In 1893, the first running, gasoline-powered American car was built and road-tested by the Duryea brothers of Springfield, Massachusetts. The first public run of the Duryea Motor Wagon took place on 21 September 1893, on Taylor Street in Metro Center Springfield.[28][29] The Studebaker Automobile Company, subsidiary of a long-established wagon and coach manufacturer, started to build cars in 1897[30]:p.66 and commenced sales of electric vehicles in 1902 and gasoline vehicles in 1904.[31]

In Britain, there had been several attempts to build steam cars with varying degrees of success, with Thomas Rickett even attempting a production run in 1860.[32] Santler from Malvern is recognized by the Veteran Car Club of Great Britain as having made the first gasoline-powered car in the country in 1894,[33] followed by Frederick William Lanchester in 1895, but these were both one-offs.[33] The first production vehicles in Great Britain came from the Daimler Company, a company founded by Harry J. Lawson in 1896, after purchasing the right to use the name of the engines. Lawson's company made its first car in 1897, and they bore the name Daimler.[33]

In 1892, German engineer Rudolf Diesel was granted a patent for a "New Rational Combustion Engine". In 1897, he built the first diesel engine.[1]Steam-, electric-, and gasoline-powered vehicles competed for decades, with gasoline internal combustion engines achieving dominance in the 1910s. Although various pistonless rotary engine designs have attempted to compete with the conventional piston and crankshaft design, only Mazda's version of the Wankel engine has had more than very limited success.

All in all, it is estimated that over 100,000 patents created the modern automobile and motorcycle.[34]

Mass production

Ransom E. Olds founded Olds Motor Vehicle Company (Oldsmobile) in 1897
Henry Ford founded Ford Motor Company in 1903
1927 Ford Model T
Kiichiro Toyoda, president of the Toyota Motor Corporation 1941–1950
Mass production at a Toyota plant in the 1950s

Large-scale, production-line manufacturing of affordable cars was started by Ransom Olds in 1901 at his Oldsmobile factory in Lansing, Michigan and based upon stationary assembly line techniques pioneered by Marc Isambard Brunel at the Portsmouth Block Mills, England, in 1802. The assembly line style of mass production and interchangeable parts had been pioneered in the U.S. by Thomas Blanchard in 1821, at the Springfield Armory in Springfield, Massachusetts.[35] This concept was greatly expanded by Henry Ford, beginning in 1913 with the world's first moving assembly line for cars at the Highland Park Ford Plant.

As a result, Ford's cars came off the line in fifteen-minute intervals, much faster than previous methods, increasing productivity eightfold, while using less manpower (from 12.5-man-hours to 1 hour 33 minutes).[36] It was so successful, paint became a bottleneck. Only Japan blackwould dry fast enough, forcing the company to drop the variety of colors available before 1913, until fast-drying Duco lacquer was developed in 1926. This is the source of Ford's apocryphal remark, "any color as long as it's black".[36] In 1914, an assembly line worker could buy a Model T with four months' pay.[36]

Ford's complex safety procedures—especially assigning each worker to a specific location instead of allowing them to roam about—dramatically reduced the rate of injury. The combination of high wages and high efficiency is called "Fordism," and was copied by most major industries. The efficiency gains from the assembly line also coincided with the economic rise of the United States. The assembly line forced workers to work at a certain pace with very repetitive motions which led to more output per worker while other countries were using less productive methods.

In the automotive industry, its success was dominating, and quickly spread worldwide seeing the founding of Ford France and Ford Britain in 1911, Ford Denmark 1923, Ford Germany 1925; in 1921, Citroen was the first native European manufacturer to adopt the production method. Soon, companies had to have assembly lines, or risk going broke; by 1930, 250 companies which did not, had disappeared.[36]

Development of automotive technology was rapid, due in part to the hundreds of small manufacturers competing to gain the world's attention. Key developments included electric ignition and the electric self-starter (both by Charles Kettering, for the Cadillac Motor Company in 1910–1911), independent suspension, and four-wheel brakes.

Since the 1920s, nearly all cars have been mass-produced to meet market needs, so marketing plans often have heavily influenced car design. It was Alfred P. Sloan who established the idea of different makes of cars produced by one company, called the General Motors Companion Make Program, so that buyers could "move up" as their fortunes improved.

Reflecting the rapid pace of change, makes shared parts with one another so larger production volume resulted in lower costs for each price range. For example, in the 1930s, LaSalles, sold by Cadillac, used cheaper mechanical parts made by Oldsmobile; in the 1950s, Chevrolet shared hood, doors, roof, and windows with Pontiac; by the 1990s, corporate powertrains and shared platforms (with interchangeable brakes, suspension, and other parts) were common. Even so, only major makers could afford high costs, and even companies with decades of production, such as Apperson, Cole, Dorris, Haynes, or Premier, could not manage: of some two hundred American car makers in existence in 1920, only 43 survived in 1930, and with the Great Depression, by 1940, only 17 of those were left.[36]

In Europe, much the same would happen. Morris set up its production line at Cowley in 1924, and soon outsold Ford, while beginning in 1923 to follow Ford's practice of vertical integration, buying Hotchkiss (engines), Wrigley (gearboxes), and Osberton (radiators), for instance, as well as competitors, such as Wolseley: in 1925, Morris had 41% of total British car production. Most British small-car assemblers, from Abbey to Xtra, had gone under. Citroen did the same in France, coming to cars in 1919; between them and other cheap cars in reply such as Renault's 10CV and Peugeot's 5CV, they produced 550,000 cars in 1925, and Mors, Hurtu, and others could not compete.[36] Germany's first mass-manufactured car, the Opel 4PS Laubfrosch (Tree Frog), came off the line at Russelsheim in 1924, soon making Opel the top car builder in Germany, with 37.5% of the market.[36]

In Japan, car production was very limited before World War II. Only a handful of companies were producing vehicles in limited numbers, and these were small, three-wheeled for commercial uses, like Daihatsu, or were the result of partnering with European companies, like Isuzu building the Wolseley A-9 in 1922. Mitsubishi was also partnered with Fiat and built the Mitsubishi Model A based on a Fiat vehicle. Toyota, Nissan, Suzuki, Mazda, and Honda began as companies producing non-automotive products before the war, switching to car production during the 1950s. Kiichiro Toyoda's decision to take Toyoda Loom Works into automobile manufacturing would create what would eventually become Toyota Motor Corporation, the largest automobile manufacturer in the world. Subaru, meanwhile, was formed from a conglomerate of six companies who banded together as Fuji Heavy Industries, as a result of having been broken up under keiretsu legislation.

Fuel and propulsion technologies

The Nissan Leaf is an all-electric car launched in December 2010

Most cars in use in the 2010s are propelled by an internal combustion engine, fueled by the deflagration (rather than detonation) combustion of hydrocarbon fossil fuels, mostly gasoline (petrol) and diesel, as well as some Autogas and CNG. Hydrocarbon fuels cause air pollution and contribute to climate change and global warming.[4] Rapidly increasing oil prices, concerns about oil dependence, tightening environmental laws and restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions are propelling work on alternative power systems for cars. Efforts to improve or replace existing technologies include the development of hybrid vehicles, plug-in electric vehicles and hydrogen vehicles. Vehicles using alternative fuels such as ethanol flexible-fuel vehicles and natural gas vehicles are also gaining popularity in some countries. Cars for racing or speed records have sometimes employed jet or rocket engines, but these are impractical for common use.

Oil consumption in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries has been abundantly pushed by car growth; the 1985–2003 oil glut even fuelled the sales of low-economy vehicles in OECD countries. The BRIC countries are adding to this consumption; in December 2009 China was briefly the largest car market.[37]

User interface

In the Ford Model T the left-side hand lever sets the rear wheel parking brakes and puts the transmission in neutral. The lever to the right controls the throttle. The lever on the left of the steering column is for ignition timing. The left foot pedal changes the two forward gears while the centre pedal controls reverse. The right pedal is the brake.

Cars are equipped with controls used for driving, passenger comfort and safety, normally operated by a combination of the use of feet and hands, and occasionally by voice on 2000s-era cars. These controls include a steering wheel, pedals for operating the brakes and controlling the car's speed (and, in a manual transmission car, a clutch pedal), a shift lever or stick for changing gears, and a number of buttons and dials for turning on lights, ventilation and other functions. Modern cars' controls are now standardised, such as the location for the accelerator and brake, but this was not always the case. Controls are evolving in response to new technologies, for example the electric car and the integration of mobile communications.

Since the car was first invented, its controls have become fewer and simpler through automation. For example, all cars once had a manual controls for the choke valve, clutch, ignition timing, and a crank instead of an electric starter. However new controls have also been added to vehicles, making them more complex. Examples include air conditioning, navigation systems, and in car entertainment. Another trend is the replacement of physical knob and switches for secondary controls with touchscreen controls such as BMW's iDrive and Ford's MyFord Touch. Another change is that while early cars' pedals were physically linked to the brake mechanism and throttle, in the 2010s, cars have increasingly replaced these physical linkages with electronic controls.


LED daytime running lights on an Audi A4

Cars are typically fitted with multiple types of lights. These include headlights, which are used to illuminate the way ahead and make the car visible to other users, so that the vehicle can be used at night; in some jurisdictions, daytime running lights; red brake lights to indicate when the brakes are applied; amber turn signal lights to indicate the turn intentions of the driver; white-coloured reverse lights to illuminate the area behind the car (and indicate that the driver will be or is reversing); and on some vehicles, additional lights (e.g., side marker lights) to increase the visibility of the car. Interior lights on the ceiling of the car are usually fitted for the driver and passengers. Some vehicles also have a trunk light and, more rarely, an engine compartment light.


The Smart Fortwo car from 1998-2002, weighing 730 kg (1,610 lb)
A Chevrolet Suburban extended-length SUV weighs 3,300 kg (7,200 lb) (gross weight)[38]

In the United States, "from 1975 to 1980, average [car] weight dropped from 1,842 to 1,464 kg (4,060 to 3,228 lb), likely in response to rising gasoline prices" and new fuel efficiency standards.[39] The average new car weighed 1,461 kg (3,221 lb) in 1987 but 1,818 kg (4,009 lb) in 2010, due to modern steel safety cages, anti-lock brakes, airbags, and "more-powerful—if more-efficient—engines."[40] Heavier cars are safer for the driver, from an accident perspective, but more dangerous for other vehicles and road users.[40] The weight of a car influences fuel consumption and performance, with more weight resulting in increased fuel consumption and decreased performance. The SmartFortwo, a small city car, weighs 750–795 kg (1,655–1,755 lb). Heavier cars include full-size cars, SUVs and extended-length SUVs like the Suburban.

According to research conducted by Julian Allwood of the University of Cambridge, global energy use could be heavily reduced by using lighter cars, and an average weight of 500 kg (1,100 lb) has been said to be well achievable.[41] In some competitions such as the Shell Eco Marathon, average car weights of 45 kg (99 lb) have also been achieved.[42][43] These cars are only single-seaters (still falling within the definition of a car, although 4-seater cars are more common), but they nevertheless demonstrate the amount by which car weights could still be reduced, and the subsequent lower fuel use (i.e. up to a fuel use of 2560 km/l).[44]

Seating and body style

Most cars are designed to carry multiple occupants, often with four or five seats. Cars with five seats typically seat two passengers in the front and three in the rear. Full-size cars and large sport utility vehicles can often carry six, seven, or more occupants depending on the arrangement of the seats. On the other hand, sports cars are most often designed with only two seats. The differing needs for passenger capacity and their luggage or cargo space has resulted in the availability of a large variety of body styles to meet individual consumer requirements that include, among others, the sedan/saloon, hatchback, station wagon/estate, and minivan.


Result of a serious car accident

Road traffic accidents are the largest cause of injury-related deaths worldwide.[6] Mary Ward became one of the first documented car fatalities in 1869 in Parsonstown, Ireland,[45] and Henry Bliss one of the United States' first pedestrian car casualties in 1899 in New York City.[46] There are now standard tests for safety in new cars, such as the EuroNCAP and the US NCAP tests,[47] and insurance-industry-backed tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).[48]

Worldwide, road traffic is becoming ever safer, in part due to efforts by the government to implement safety features in cars (e.g., seat belts, air bags, etc.), reduce unsafe driving practices (e.g., speeding, drinking and driving and texting and driving) and make road design more safe by adding features such as speed bumps, which reduce vehicle speed, and roundabouts, which reduce the likelihood of a head-on-collision (as compared with an intersection).

Costs and benefits

Road congestion is an issue in many major cities. (pictured is Chang'an Avenue in Beijing)[49]

The costs of car usage, which may include the cost of: acquiring the vehicle, repairs and auto maintenance, fuel, depreciation, driving time, parking fees, taxes, and insurance,[5] are weighed against the cost of the alternatives, and the value of the benefits – perceived and real – of vehicle usage. The benefits may include on-demand transportation, mobility, independence and convenience.[7] During the 1920s, cars had another benefit: "[c]ouples finally had a way to head off on unchaperoned dates, plus they had a private space to snuggle up close at the end of the night."[50]

Similarly the costs to society of encompassing car use, which may include those of: maintaining roads, land use, air pollution, road congestion, public health, health care, and of disposing of the vehicle at the end of its life, can be balanced against the value of the benefits to society that car use generates. The societal benefits may include: economy benefits, such as job and wealth creation, of car production and maintenance, transportation provision, society wellbeing derived from leisure and travel opportunities, and revenue generation from the tax opportunities. The ability for humans to move flexibly from place to place has far-reaching implications for the nature of societies.[8]

Environmental impact

Vehicles in use per country from 2001 to 2007. It shows the significant growth in BRIC.
World map of passenger cars per 1000 people

While there are different types of fuel that may power cars, most rely on gasoline or diesel. The United States Environmental Protection Agency states that the average vehicle emits 8,887 grams of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) per gallon of gasoline. The average vehicle running on diesel fuel will emit 10,180 grams of carbon dioxide.[51] Many governments are using fiscal policies (such as road tax or the US gas guzzler tax) to influence vehicle purchase decisions, with a low CO2 figure often resulting in reduced taxation.[52] Fuel taxes may act as an incentive for the production of more efficient, hence less polluting, car designs (e.g. hybrid vehicles) and the development of alternative fuels. High fuel taxes may provide a strong incentive for consumers to purchase lighter, smaller, more fuel-efficient cars, or to not drive. On average, today's cars are about 75 percent recyclable, and using recycled steel helps reduce energy use and pollution.[53] In the United States Congress, federally mandated fuel efficiency standards have been debated regularly, passenger car standards have not risen above the 27.5 miles per US gallon (8.6 L/100 km; 33.0 mpg‑imp) standard set in 1985. Light truck standards have changed more frequently, and were set at 22.2 miles per US gallon (10.6 L/100 km; 26.7 mpg‑imp) in 2007.[54]

The manufacture of vehicles is resource intensive, and many manufacturers now report on the environmental performance of their factories, including energy usage, waste and water consumption.[55]

The growth in popularity of the car allowed cities to sprawl, therefore encouraging more travel by car resulting in inactivity and obesity, which in turn can lead to increased risk of a variety of diseases.[56]

Transportation (of all types including trucks, buses and cars) is a major contributor to air pollution in most industrialised nations. According to the American Surface Transportation Policy Project nearly half of all Americans are breathing unhealthy air. Their study showed air quality in dozens of metropolitan areas has worsened over the last decade.[57]

Animals and plants are often negatively impacted by cars via habitat destruction and pollution. Over the lifetime of the average car the "loss of habitat potential" may be over 50,000 m2 (540,000 sq ft) based on primary production correlations.[58] Animals are also killed every year on roads by cars, referred to as roadkill. More recent road developments are including significant environmental mitigations in their designs such as green bridges to allow wildlife crossings, and creating wildlife corridors.

Growth in the popularity of vehicles and commuting has led to traffic congestion. Brussels was considered Europe's most congested city in 2011 according to TomTom.[59]

Emerging car technologies

Car propulsion technologies that are under development include gasoline/electric and plug-in hybrids, battery electric vehicles, hydrogen cars, biofuels, and various alternative fuels. Research into future alternative forms of power include the development of fuel cells, Homogeneous charge compression ignition (HCCI), stirling engines,[60] and even using the stored energy of compressed air or liquid nitrogen.

New materials which may replace steel car bodies include duralumin, fiberglass, carbon fiber, biocomposites, and carbon nanotubes. Telematics technology is allowing more and more people to share cars, on a pay-as-you-go basis, through car share and carpool schemes. Communication is also evolving due to connected car systems.[61]

Autonomous car

A robotic Volkswagen Passatshown at Stanford University is a driverless car

Fully autonomous vehicles, also known as driverless cars, already exist in prototype (such as the Google driverless car), and are expected to be commercially available around 2020. According to urban designer and futurist Michael E. Arth, driverless electric vehicles—in conjunction with the increased use of virtual reality for work, travel, and pleasure—could reduce the world's 800 million vehicles to a fraction of that number within a few decades.[62] This would be possible if almost all private cars requiring drivers, which are not in use and parked 90% of the time, would be traded for public self-driving taxis that would be in near constant use. This would also allow for getting the appropriate vehicle for the particular need—a bus could come for a group of people, a limousine could come for a special night out, and a Segway could come for a short trip down the street for one person. Children could be chauffeured in supervised safety, DUIs would no longer exist, and 41,000 lives could be saved each year in the US alone.[63][64]

Open source development

There have been several projects aiming to develop a car on the principles of open design, an approach to designing in which the plans for the machinery and systems are publicly shared, often without monetary compensation. The projects include OScar, Riversimple (through[65] and c,mm,n.[66] None of the projects have reached significant success in terms of developing a car as a whole both from hardware and software perspective and no mass production ready open-source based design have been introduced as of late 2009. Some car hacking through on-board diagnostics (OBD) has been done so far.[67]

Car sharing

Car-share arrangements and carpooling are also increasingly popular, in the US and Europe.[68] For example, in the US, some car-sharing services have experienced double-digit growth in revenue and membership growth between 2006 and 2007. Services like car sharing offering a residents to "share" a vehicle rather than own a car in already congested neighborhoods.[69]


A car being assembled in a factory

The automotive industry designs, develops, manufactures, markets, and sells the world's motor vehicles. In 2008, more than 70 million motor vehicles, including cars and commercial vehicles were produced worldwide.[70]

In 2007, a total of 71.9 million new cars were sold worldwide: 22.9 million in Europe, 21.4 million in the Asia-Pacific Region, 19.4 million in the USA and Canada, 4.4 million in Latin America, 2.4 million in the Middle East and 1.4 million in Africa.[71] The markets in North America and Japan were stagnant, while those in South America and other parts of Asia grew strongly. Of the major markets, China, Russia, Brazil and India saw the most rapid growth.

About 250 million vehicles are in use in the United States. Around the world, there were about 806 million cars and light trucks on the road in 2007; they burn over 260 billion US gallons (980,000,000 m3) of gasoline and diesel fuel yearly. The numbers are increasing rapidly, especially in China and India.[11] In the opinion of some, urban transport systems based around the car have proved unsustainable, consuming excessive energy, affecting the health of populations, and delivering a declining level of service despite increasing investments. Many of these negative impacts fall disproportionately on those social groups who are also least likely to own and drive cars.[72][73][74] The sustainable transport movement focuses on solutions to these problems.

In 2008, with rapidly rising oil prices, industries such as the automotive industry, are experiencing a combination of pricing pressures from raw material costs and changes in consumer buying habits. The industry is also facing increasing external competition from the public transport sector, as consumers re-evaluate their private vehicle usage.[75] Roughly half of the US's fifty-one light vehicle plants are projected to permanently close in the coming years, with the loss of another 200,000 jobs in the sector, on top of the 560,000 jobs lost this decade.[76] Combined with robust growth in China, in 2009, this resulted in China becoming the largest car producer and market in the world. China 2009 sales had increased to 13.6 million, a significant increase from one million of domestic car sales in 2000.[77] Since then however, even in China and other BRIC countries, the automotive production is again falling.[78]


The Vélib' in Paris is the largest bikesharing system outside of China[79]

Established alternatives for some aspects of car use include public transit such as buses, trolleybuses, trains, subways, tramways light rail, cycling, and walking. Bike-share systems have been tried in some European cities, including Copenhagen and Amsterdam. Similar programs have been experimented with in a number of US Cities.[80] Additional individual modes of transport, such as personal rapid transit could serve as an alternative to cars if they prove to be socially accepted.[81]

Other meanings

The term motorcar has formerly also been used in the context of electrified rail systems to denote a car which functions as a small locomotive but also provides space for passengers and baggage. These locomotive cars were often used on suburban routes by both interurban and intercity railroad systems.[82]

See also

  • Cars portal
  • Car costs
  • Car classification
  • Carfree city
  • List of countries by automobile production
  • List of countries by vehicles per capita
  • Lists of automobiles
  • Motor vehicle theft
  • Noise pollution
  • Peak car
  • Steering
  • Traffic collision


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English is a West Germanic language that was first spoken in early medieval England and is now a global lingua franca.[4][5] Named after the Angles, one of the Germanic tribes that migrated to the area of Britain that would later take their name, England, both names ultimately deriving from the Anglia peninsula in the Baltic Sea. It is closely related to the Frisian languages, but its vocabulary has been significantly influenced by other Germanic languages, particularly Norse (a North Germanic language), as well as by Latin and French.[6]

English has developed over the course of more than 1,400 years. The earliest forms of English, a set of Anglo-Frisian dialects brought to Great Britain by Anglo-Saxon settlers in the 5th century, are called Old English. Middle English began in the late 11th century with the Norman conquest of England and was a period in which the language was influenced by French.[7] Early Modern English began in the late 15th century with the introduction of the printing press to London, the printing of the King James Bibleand the start of the Great Vowel Shift.[8]

Through the worldwide influence of the British Empire, Modern English spread around the world from the 17th to mid-20th centuries. Through all types of printed and electronic media, and spurred by the emergence of the United States as a global superpower, English has become the leading language of international discourse and the lingua franca in many regions and professional contexts such as science, navigation and law.[9]

English is the third most spoken native language in the world, after Standard Chinese and Spanish.[10] It is the most widely learned second language and is either the official language or one of the official languages in almost 60 sovereign states. There are more people who have learned it as a second language than there are native speakers. English is the most commonly spoken language in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, Ireland and New Zealand, and it is widely spoken in some areas of the Caribbean, Africa and South Asia.[11] It is a co-official language of the United Nations, the European Union and many other world and regional international organisations. It is the most widely spoken Germanic language, accounting for at least 70% of speakers of this Indo-European branch. English has a vast vocabulary, though counting how many words any language has is impossible.[12][13] English speakers are called "Anglophones".

Modern English grammar is the result of a gradual change from a typical Indo-European dependent marking pattern with a rich inflectional morphology and relatively free word order to a mostly analytic pattern with little inflection, a fairly fixed SVO word order and a complex syntax.[14] Modern English relies more on auxiliary verbs and word order for the expression of complex tenses, aspect and mood, as well as passive constructions, interrogatives and some negation. Despite noticeable variation among the accents and dialects of English used in different countries and regions—in terms of phonetics and phonology, and sometimes also vocabulary, grammar and spelling—English-speakers from around the world are able to communicate with one another with relative ease.


Anglic languages
Anglo-Frisian languages
Anglic and
North Sea Germanic languagesAnglo-Frisian and
  Low German/Low Saxon
West Germanic languages
North Sea Germanic and
Phylogenetic tree showing the historical relations between the languages of the West Germanic branch of the Germanic languages

English is an Indo-European language and belongs to the West Germanic group of the Germanic languages.[15] Old Englishoriginated from a Germanic tribal and linguistic continuum along the coast of the North Sea, whose languages are now known as the Anglo-Frisian subgroup within West Germanic. As such, the modern Frisian languages are the closest living relatives of Modern English. Low German/Low Saxon is also closely related, and sometimes English, the Frisian languages, and Low German are grouped together as the Ingvaeonic (North Sea Germanic) languages, though this grouping remains debated.[16] Old English evolved into Middle English, which in turn evolved into Modern English.[17] Particular dialects of Old and Middle English also developed into a number of other Anglic languages, including Scots[18] and the extinct Fingallian and Forth and Bargy (Yola) dialects of Ireland.[19]

Like Icelandic and Faroese, the development of English on the British Isles isolated it from the continental Germanic languages and influences, and has since undergone substantial evolution. English is thus not mutually intelligible with any continental Germanic language, differing in vocabulary, syntax, and phonology, although some, such as Dutch or Frisian, do show strong affinities with English, especially with its earlier stages.[20]

Unlike Icelandic or Faroese, the long history of invasions of the British Isles by other peoples and languages, particularly Old Norse and Norman French, left a profound mark of their own on the language, such that English shares substantial vocabulary and grammar similarities with many languages outside its linguistic clades, while also being unintelligible with any of those languages. Some scholars have even argued that English can be considered a mixed language or a creole—a theory called the Middle English creole hypothesis. Although the high degree of influence from these languages on the vocabulary and grammar of Modern English is widely acknowledged, most specialists in language contact do not consider English to be a true mixed language.[21][22]

English is classified as a Germanic language because it shares innovations with other Germanic languages such as Dutch, German, and Swedish.[23] These shared innovations show that the languages have descended from a single common ancestor called Proto-Germanic. Some shared features of Germanic languages include the use of modal verbs, the division of verbs into strong and weak classes, and the sound changes affecting Proto-Indo-European consonants, known as Grimm's and Verner's laws. English is classified as an Anglo-Frisian language because Frisian and English share other features, such as the palatalisation of consonants that were velar consonants in Proto-Germanic (see Phonological history of Old English § Palatalization).[24]

  • English singsangsung; Dutch zingenzonggezongen; German singensanggesungen (strong verb)
  • English laughlaughed; Dutch and German lachenlachte (weak verb)
  • English foot, Dutch voet, German Fuß, Norwegian and Swedish fot (initial /f/ derived from Proto-Indo-European *p through Grimm's law)
(Compare Latin pes, stem ped-; Modern Greek πόδι pódi; Russian под pod; Sanskrit पद् pád)
  • English cheese, Frisian tsiis (ch and ts from palatalisation); German Käse and Dutch kaas (k without palatalisation)


Proto-Germanic to Old English

The opening to the Old English epic poem Beowulf, handwritten in half-uncial script:
Hƿæt ƿē Gārde/na ingēar dagum þēod cyninga / þrym ge frunon...
"Listen! We of the Spear-Danes from days of yore have heard of the glory of the folk-kings..."

The earliest form of English is called Old English or Anglo-Saxon (c. 550–1066 CE). Old English developed from a set of North Sea Germanic dialects originally spoken along the coasts of Frisia, Lower Saxony, Jutland, and Southern Sweden by Germanic tribes known as the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes. In the fifth century, the Anglo-Saxons settled Britainas the Roman economy and administration collapsed. By the seventh century, the Germanic language of the Anglo-Saxons became dominant in Britain, replacing the languages of Roman Britain (43–409 CE): Common Brittonic, a Celtic language, and Latin, brought to Britain by the Roman occupation.[25][26][27] England and English (originally Ænglaland and Ænglisc) are named after the Angles.[28]

Old English was divided into four dialects: the Anglian dialects, Mercian and Northumbrian, and the Saxon dialects, Kentish and West Saxon.[29] Through the educational reforms of King Alfred in the ninth century and the influence of the kingdom of Wessex, the West Saxon dialect became the standard written variety.[30] The epic poem Beowulf is written in West Saxon, and the earliest English poem, Cædmon's Hymn, is written in Northumbrian.[31] Modern English developed mainly from Mercian, but the Scots language developed from Northumbrian. A few short inscriptions from the early period of Old English were written using a runic script.[32] By the sixth century, a Latin alphabet was adopted, written with half-uncial letterforms. It included the runic letters wynn ⟨ƿ⟩ and thorn ⟨þ⟩, and the modified Latin letters eth ⟨ð⟩, and ash ⟨æ⟩.[32][33]

Old English is very different from Modern English and difficult for 21st-century English speakers to understand. Its grammar was similar to that of modern German, and its closest relative is Old Frisian. Nouns, adjectives, pronouns, and verbs had many more inflectional endings and forms, and word order was much freer than in Modern English. Modern English has case forms in pronouns (hehimhis) and a few verb endings (I havehe has), but Old English had case endings in nouns as well, and verbs had more person and number endings.[34][35][36]

The translation of Matthew 8:20 from 1000 CE shows examples of case endings (nominative plural, accusative plural, genitive singular) and a verb ending (present plural):

Foxas habbað holu and heofonan fuglas nest
Fox-as habb-að hol-u and heofon-an fugl-as nest-∅ and
"Foxes have holes and the birds of heaven nests"[37]

Middle English

Englischmen þeyz hy hadde fram þe bygynnyng þre manner speche, Souþeron, Northeron, and Myddel speche in þe myddel of þe lond, … Noþeles by comyxstion and mellyng, furst wiþ Danes, and afterward wiþ Normans, in menye þe contray longage ys asperyed, and som vseþ strange wlaffyng, chyteryng, harryng, and garryng grisbytting.

Although, from the beginning, Englishmen had three manners of speaking, southern, northern and midlands speech in the middle of the country, … Nevertheless, through intermingling and mixing, first with Danes and then with Normans, amongst many the country language has arisen, and some use strange stammering, chattering, snarling, and grating gnashing.

John of Trevisa, ca. 1385[38]

In the period from the 8th to the 12th century, Old English gradually transformed through language contact into Middle English. Middle English is often arbitrarily defined as beginning with the conquest of England by William the Conqueror in 1066, but it developed further in the period from 1200–1450.

First, the waves of Norse colonisation of northern parts of the British Isles in the 8th and 9th centuries put Old English into intense contact with Old Norse, a North Germanic language. Norse influence was strongest in the Northeastern varieties of Old English spoken in the Danelaw area around York, which was the centre of Norse colonisation; today these features are still particularly present in Scots and Northern English. However the centre of norsified English seems to have been in the Midlands around Lindsey, and after 920 CE when Lindsey was reincorporated into the Anglo-Saxon polity, Norse features spread from there into English varieties that had not been in intense contact with Norse speakers. Some elements of Norse influence that persist in all English varieties today are the pronouns beginning with th-(they, them, their) which replaced the Anglo-Saxon pronouns with h- (hie, him, hera).[39]

With the Norman conquest of England in 1066, the now norsified Old English language was subject to contact with the Old Norman language, a Romance languageclosely related to Modern French. The Norman language in England eventually developed into Anglo-Norman. Because Norman was spoken primarily by the elites and nobles, while the lower classes continued speaking Anglo-Saxon, the influence of Norman consisted of introducing a wide range of loanwords related to politics, legislation and prestigious social domains.[40] Middle English also greatly simplified the inflectional system, probably in order to reconcile Old Norse and Old English, which were inflectionally different but morphologically similar. The distinction between nominative and accusative case was lost except in personal pronouns, the instrumental case was dropped, and the use of the genitive case was limited to describing possession. The inflectional system regularised many irregular inflectional forms,[41] and gradually simplified the system of agreement, making word order less flexible.[42] By the Wycliffe Bible of the 1380s, the passage Matthew 8:20 was written

Foxis han dennes, and briddis of heuene han nestis[43]

Here the plural suffix -n on the verb have is still retained, but none of the case endings on the nouns are present.

By the 12th century Middle English was fully developed, integrating both Norse and Norman features; it continued to be spoken until the transition to early Modern English around 1500. Middle English literature includes Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, and Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur. In the Middle English period, the use of regional dialects in writing proliferated, and dialect traits were even used for effect by authors such as Chaucer.

Early Modern English

Graphic representation of the Great Vowel Shift, showing how the pronunciation of the long vowels gradually shifted, with the high vowels i: and u: breaking into diphthongs and the lower vowels each shifting their pronunciation up one level

The next period in the history of English was Early Modern English (1500–1700). Early Modern English was characterised by the Great Vowel Shift (1350–1700), inflectional simplification, and linguistic standardisation.

The Great Vowel Shift affected the stressed long vowels of Middle English. It was a chain shift, meaning that each shift triggered a subsequent shift in the vowel system. Mid and open vowels were raised, and close vowels were broken into diphthongs. For example, the word bite was originally pronounced as the word beet is today, and the second vowel in the word about was pronounced as the word boot is today. The Great Vowel Shift explains many irregularities in spelling since English retains many spellings from Middle English, and it also explains why English vowel letters have very different pronunciations from the same letters in other languages.[44][45]

English began to rise in prestige, relative to Norman French, during the reign of Henry V. Around 1430, the Court of Chancery in Westminster began using English in its official documents, and a new standard form of Middle English, known as Chancery Standard, developed from the dialects of London and the East Midlands. In 1476, William Caxton introduced the printing press to England and began publishing the first printed books in London, expanding the influence of this form of English.[46] Literature from the Early Modern period includes the works of William Shakespeare and the translation of the Bible commissioned by King James I. Even after the vowel shift the language still sounded different from Modern English: for example, the consonant clusters /kn ɡn sw/ in knightgnat, and sword were still pronounced. Many of the grammatical features that a modern reader of Shakespeare might find quaint or archaic represent the distinct characteristics of Early Modern English.[47]

In the 1611 King James Version of the Bible, written in Early Modern English, Matthew 8:20 says:

The Foxes haue holes and the birds of the ayre haue nests[37]

This exemplifies the loss of case and its effects on sentence structure (replacement with Subject-Verb-Object word order, and the use of of instead of the non-possessive genitive), and the introduction of loanwords from French (ayre) and word replacements (bird originally meaning "nestling" had replaced OE fugol).

Spread of Modern English

By the late 18th century, the British Empire had facilitated the spread of English through its colonies and geopolitical dominance. Commerce, science and technology, diplomacy, art, and formal education all contributed to English becoming the first truly global language. English also facilitated worldwide international communication.[48][9] As England continued to form new colonies, these, in turn, became independent and developed their own norms for how to speak and write the language. English was adopted in North America, India, parts of Africa, Australasia, and many other regions. In the post-colonial period, some of the newly created nations that had multiple indigenous languages opted to continue using English as the official language to avoid the political difficulties inherent in promoting any one indigenous language above the others.[49][50][51] In the 20th century the growing economic and cultural influence of the United States and its status as a superpower following the Second World War has, along with worldwide broadcasting in English by the BBC[52] and other broadcasters, significantly accelerated the spread of the language across the planet.[53][54] By the 21st century, English was more widely spoken and written than any language has ever been.[55]

A major feature in the early development of Modern English was the codification of explicit norms for standard usage, and their dissemination through official media such as public education and state-sponsored publications. In 1755 Samuel Johnson published his A Dictionary of the English Language which introduced a standard set of spelling conventions and usage norms. In 1828, Noah Webster published the American Dictionary of the English language in an effort to establish a norm for speaking and writing American English that was independent from the British standard. Within Britain, non-standard or lower class dialect features were increasingly stigmatised, leading to the quick spread of the prestige varieties among the middle classes.[56]

In terms of grammatical evolution, Modern English has now reached a stage where the loss of case is almost complete (case is now only found in pronouns, such as he and himshe and herwho and whom), and where SVO word-order is mostly fixed.[56] Some changes, such as the use of do-support have become universalised. (Earlier English did not use the word "do" as a general auxiliary as Modern English does; at first it was only used in question constructions where it was not obligatory.[57] Now, do-support with the verb have is becoming increasingly standardised.) The use of progressive forms in -ing, appears to be spreading to new constructions, and forms such as had been being built are becoming more common. Regularisation of irregular forms also slowly continues (e.g. dreamed instead of dreamt), and analytical alternatives to inflectional forms are becoming more common (e.g. more polite instead of politer). British English is also undergoing change under the influence of American English, fuelled by the strong presence of American English in the media and the prestige associated with the US as a world power. [58][59][60]

Geographical distribution


Percentage of English native speakers.
Percentage of English speakers by country.
  Not available

As of 2016, 400 million people spoke English as their first language, and 1.1 billion spoke it as a secondary language.[61] English is probably the third largest language by number of native speakers, after Mandarin and Spanish.[10] However, when combining native and non-native speakers it may, depending on the estimate used, be the most commonly spoken language in the world.[55][62][63][64] English is spoken by communities on every continent and on oceanic islands in all the major oceans.[65]

The countries in which English is spoken can be grouped into different categories by how English is used in each country. The "inner circle"[66] countries with many native speakers of English share an international standard of written English and jointly influence speech norms of English around the world. English does not belong to just one country, and it does not belong solely to descendants of English settlers. English is an official language of countries populated by few descendants of native speakers of English. It has also become by far the most important language of international communication when people who share no native language meet anywhere in the world.

Three circles of English-speaking countries

Braj Kachru distinguishes countries where English is spoken with a three circles model.[66] In his model, the "inner circle" countries are countries with large communities of native speakers of English, "outer circle" countries have small communities of native speakers of English but widespread use of English as a second language in education or broadcasting or for local official purposes, and "expanding circle" countries are countries where many learners learn English as a foreign language. Kachru bases his model on the history of how English spread in different countries, how users acquire English, and the range of uses English has in each country. The three circles change membership over time.[67]

Braj Kachru's Three Circles of English
Braj Kachru's Three Circles of English.

Countries with large communities of native speakers of English (the inner circle) include Britain, the United States, Australia, Canada, Ireland, and New Zealand, where the majority speaks English, and South Africa, where a significant minority speaks English. The countries with the most native English speakers are, in descending order, the United States (at least 231 million),[68] the United Kingdom (60 million),[69][70][71] Canada (19 million),[72] Australia (at least 17 million),[73] South Africa (4.8 million),[74]Ireland (4.2 million), and New Zealand (3.7 million).[75] In these countries, children of native speakers learn English from their parents, and local people who speak other languages or new immigrants learn English to communicate in their neighbourhoods and workplaces.[76] The inner-circle countries provide the base from which English spreads to other countries in the world.[67]

Estimates of the number of English speakers who are second language and foreign-language speakers vary greatly from 470 million to more than 1,000 million depending on how proficiency is defined.[11] Linguist David Crystal estimates that non-native speakers now outnumber native speakers by a ratio of 3 to 1.[62] In Kachru's three-circles model, the "outer circle" countries are countries such as the Philippines,[77] Jamaica,[78] India, Pakistan, Singapore,[79] and Nigeria[80][81] with a much smaller proportion of native speakers of English but much use of English as a second language for education, government, or domestic business, and where English is routinely used for school instruction and official interactions with the government.[82]

Those countries have millions of native speakers of dialect continua ranging from an English-based creole to a more standard version of English. They have many more speakers of English who acquire English in the process of growing up through day by day use and listening to broadcasting, especially if they attend schools where English is the medium of instruction. Varieties of English learned by speakers who are not native speakers born to English-speaking parents may be influenced, especially in their grammar, by the other languages spoken by those learners.[76] Most of those varieties of English include words little used by native speakers of English in the inner-circle countries,[76] and they may have grammatical and phonological differences from inner-circle varieties as well. The standard English of the inner-circle countries is often taken as a norm for use of English in the outer-circle countries.[76]

In the three-circles model, countries such as Poland, China, Brazil, Germany, Japan, Indonesia, Egypt, and other countries where English is taught as a foreign language make up the "expanding circle".[83] The distinctions between English as a first language, as a second language, and as a foreign language are often debatable and may change in particular countries over time.[82] For example, in the Netherlands and some other countries of Europe, knowledge of English as a second language is nearly universal, with over 80 percent of the population able to use it,[84] and thus English is routinely used to communicate with foreigners and often in higher education. In these countries, although English is not used for government business, its widespread use puts them at the boundary between the "outer circle" and "expanding circle". English is unusual among world languages in how many of its users are not native speakers but speakers of English as a second or foreign language.[85]

Many users of English in the expanding circle use it to communicate with other people from the expanding circle, so that interaction with native speakers of English plays no part in their decision to use English.[86] Non-native varieties of English are widely used for international communication, and speakers of one such variety often encounter features of other varieties.[87] Very often today a conversation in English anywhere in the world may include no native speakers of English at all, even while including speakers from several different countries.[88]


Pie chart showing the percentage of native English speakers living in "inner circle" English-speaking countries. Native speakers are now substantially outnumbered worldwide by second-language speakers of English (not counted in this chart).

  US (64.3%)
  UK (16.7%)
  Canada (5.3%)
  Australia (4.7%)
  South Africa (1.3%)
  Ireland (1.1%)
  New Zealand (1%)
  Other (5.6%)

Pluricentric English

English is a pluricentric language, which means that no one national authority sets the standard for use of the language.[89][90][91][92] But English is not a divided language,[93] despite a long-standing joke originally attributed to George Bernard Shaw that the United Kingdom and the United States are "two countries separated by a common language".[94] Spoken English, for example English used in broadcasting, generally follows national pronunciation standards that are also established by custom rather than by regulation. International broadcasters are usually identifiable as coming from one country rather than another through their accents,[95] but newsreader scripts are also composed largely in international standard written English. The norms of standard written English are maintained purely by the consensus of educated English-speakers around the world, without any oversight by any government or international organisation.[96]

American listeners generally readily understand most British broadcasting, and British listeners readily understand most American broadcasting. Most English speakers around the world can understand radio programmes, television programmes, and films from many parts of the English-speaking world.[97] Both standard and non-standard varieties of English can include both formal or informal styles, distinguished by word choice and syntax and use both technical and non-technical registers.[98]

The settlement history of the English-speaking inner circle countries outside Britain helped level dialect distinctions and produce koineised forms of English in South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand.[99] The majority of immigrants to the United States without British ancestry rapidly adopted English after arrival. Now the majority of the United States population are monolingual English speakers,[100][68] although English has been given official status by only 30 of the 50 state governments of the US.[101][102]

English as a global language

English has ceased to be an "English language" in the sense of belonging only to people who are ethnically English.[103][104] Use of English is growing country-by-country internally and for international communication. Most people learn English for practical rather than ideological reasons.[105] Many speakers of English in Africa have become part of an "Afro-Saxon" language community that unites Africans from different countries.[106]

As decolonisation proceeded throughout the British Empire in the 1950s and 1960s, former colonies often did not reject English but rather continued to use it as independent countries setting their own language policies.[50][51][107] For example, the view of the English language among many Indians has gone from associating it with colonialism to associating it with economic progress, and English continues to be an official language of India.[108] English is also widely used in media and literature, and the number of English language books published annually in India is the third largest in the world after the US and UK.[109] However English is rarely spoken as a first language, numbering only around a couple hundred-thousand people, and less than 5% of the population speak fluent English in India.[110][111] David Crystal claimed in 2004 that, combining native and non-native speakers, India now has more people who speak or understand English than any other country in the world,[112] but the number of English speakers in India is very uncertain, with most scholars concluding that the United States still has more speakers of English than India.[113]

Modern English, sometimes described as the first global lingua franca,[53][114] is also regarded as the first world language.[115][116] English is the world's most widely used language in newspaper publishing, book publishing, international telecommunications, scientific publishing, international trade, mass entertainment, and diplomacy.[116] English is, by international treaty, the basis for the required controlled natural languages[117]Seaspeak and Airspeak, used as international languages of seafaring[118] and aviation.[119] English used to have parity with French and German in scientific research, but now it dominates that field.[120] It achieved parity with French as a language of diplomacy at the Treaty of Versailles negotiations in 1919.[121] By the time of the foundation of the United Nations at the end of World War II, English had become pre-eminent [122] and is now the main worldwide language of diplomacy and international relations.[123] It is one of six official languages of the United Nations.[124] Many other worldwide international organisations, including the International Olympic Committee, specify English as a working language or official language of the organisation.

Many regional international organisations such as the European Free Trade Association, Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN),[54] and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) set English as their organisation's sole working language even though most members are not countries with a majority of native English speakers. While the European Union (EU) allows member states to designate any of the national languages as an official language of the Union, in practice English is the main working language of EU organisations.[125]

Although in most countries English is not an official language, it is currently the language most often taught as a foreign language.[53][54] In the countries of the EU, English is the most widely spoken foreign language in nineteen of the twenty-five member states where it is not an official language (that is, the countries other than the UK, Ireland and Malta). In a 2012 official Eurobarometer poll, 38 percent of the EU respondents outside the countries where English is an official language said they could speak English well enough to have a conversation in that language. The next most commonly mentioned foreign language, French (which is the most widely known foreign language in the UK and Ireland), could be used in conversation by 12 percent of respondents.[126]

A working knowledge of English has become a requirement in a number of occupations and professions such as medicine[127] and computing. English has become so important in scientific publishing that more than 80 percent of all scientific journal articles indexed by Chemical Abstracts in 1998 were written in English, as were 90 percent of all articles in natural science publications by 1996 and 82 percent of articles in humanities publications by 1995.[128]

Specialised subsets of English arise spontaneously in international communities, for example, among international business people, as an auxiliary language. This has led some scholars to develop the study of English as an auxiliary language. Globish uses a relatively small subset of English vocabulary (about 1500 words with highest use in international business English) in combination with the standard English grammar. Other examples include Simple English.

The increased use of the English language globally has had an effect on other languages, leading to some English words being assimilated into the vocabularies of other languages. This influence of English has led to concerns about language death,[129] and to claims of linguistic imperialism,[130] and has provoked resistance to the spread of English; however the number of speakers continues to increase because many people around the world think that English provides them with opportunities for better employment and improved lives.[131]

Although some scholars mention a possibility of future divergence of English dialects into mutually unintelligible languages, most think a more likely outcome is that English will continue to function as a koineisedlanguage in which the standard form unifies speakers from around the world.[132] English is used as the language for wider communication in countries around the world.[133] Thus English has grown in worldwide use much more than any constructed language proposed as an international auxiliary language, including Esperanto.[134][135]


The phonetics and phonology of the English language differ from one dialect to another, usually without interfering with mutual communication. Phonological variation affects the inventory of phonemes (i.e. speech sounds that distinguish meaning), and phonetic variation consists in differences in pronunciation of the phonemes. [136] This overview mainly describes the standard pronunciations of the United Kingdom and the United States: Received Pronunciation (RP) and General American (GA). (See § Dialects, accents, and varieties, below.)

The phonetic symbols used below are from the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA).[137][138][139]


Most English dialects share the same 24 consonant phonemes. The consonant inventory shown below is valid for Californian American English,[140] and for RP.[141]

Consonant phonemes
  Labial Dental Alveolar Post-
Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal   m     n       ŋ  
Stop p b   t d   k ɡ  
Fricative f v θ ð s z ʃ ʒ     h  
Approximant       l   ɹ*   j   w  

* Conventionally transcribed /r/.

In the table, when obstruents (stops, affricates, and fricatives) appear in pairs, such as /p b//tʃ dʒ/, and /s z/, the first is fortis (strong) and the second is lenis (weak). Fortis obstruents, such as /p tʃ s/ are pronounced with more muscular tension and breath force than lenis consonants, such as /b dʒ z/, and are always voiceless. Lenis consonants are partly voiced at the beginning and end of utterances, and fully voiced between vowels. Fortis stops such as /p/ have additional articulatory or acoustic features in most dialects: they are aspirated [pʰ] when they occur alone at the beginning of a stressed syllable, often unaspirated in other cases, and often unreleased [p̚] or pre-glottalised [ʔp] at the end of a syllable. In a single-syllable word, a vowel before a fortis stop is shortened: thus nip has a noticeably shorter vowel (phonetically, but not phonemically) than nib [nɪˑb̥](see below).[142]

  • lenis stops: bin [b̥ɪˑn]about [əˈbaʊt]nib [nɪˑb̥]
  • fortis stops: pin [pʰɪn]spin [spɪn]happy [ˈhæpi]nip [nɪp̚] or [nɪʔp]

In RP, the lateral approximant /l/, has two main allophones (pronunciation variants): the clear or plain [l], as in light, and the dark or velarised [ɫ], as in full.[143] GA has dark l in most cases.[144]

  • clear l: RP light [laɪt]
  • dark l: RP and GA full [fʊɫ], GA light [ɫaɪt]

All sonorants (liquids /l, r/ and nasals /m, n, ŋ/) devoice when following a voiceless obstruent, and they are syllabic when following a consonant at the end of a word.[145]

  • voiceless sonorants: clay [kl̥eɪ̯]snow RP [sn̥əʊ̯], GA [sn̥oʊ̯]
  • syllabic sonorants: paddle [ˈpad.l̩]button [ˈbʌt.n̩]


The pronunciation of vowels varies a great deal between dialects and is one of the most detectable aspects of a speaker's accent. The table below lists the vowel phonemes in Received Pronunciation (RP) and General American (GA), with examples of words in which they occur from lexical sets compiled by linguists. The vowels are represented with symbols from the International Phonetic Alphabet; those given for RP are standard in British dictionaries and other publications.[146]

RP GA Word
i need
ɪ bid
e ɛ bed
æ back
ɑː ɑ bra
ɒ box
ɔɑ cloth
ɔː paw
u food
ʊ good
ʌ but
ɜː ɜr bird
ə comma
Closing diphthongs
RP GA Word
əʊ road
ɔɪ boy
Centering diphthongs
RP GA word
ɪə ɪɹ peer
ɛɹ pair
ʊə ʊɹ poor

In RP, vowel length is phonemic; long vowels are marked with a triangular colon ⟨ː⟩ in the table above, such as the vowel of need [niːd] as opposed to bid [bɪd]. In GA, vowel length is non-distinctive.

In both RP and GA, vowels are phonetically shortened before fortis consonants in the same syllable, like /t tʃ f/, but not before lenis consonants like /d dʒ v/ or in open syllables: thus, the vowels of rich [rɪtʃ]neat [nit], and safe [seɪ̯f] are noticeably shorter than the vowels of ridge [rɪˑdʒ]need [niˑd], and save [seˑɪ̯v], and the vowel of light [laɪ̯t] is shorter than that of lie [laˑɪ̯]. Because lenis consonants are frequently voiceless at the end of a syllable, vowel length is an important cue as to whether the following consonant is lenis or fortis.[147]

The vowel /ə/ only occurs in unstressed syllables and is closer in quality when followed by a morpheme-internal consonant and opener when morpheme-final or prevocalic.[148][149] Some dialects do not contrast /ɪ/ and /ə/in unstressed positions, so that rabbit and abbot rhyme and Lenin and Lennon are homophonous, a dialect feature called weak vowel merger.[150] GA /ɜr/ and /ər/ are realised as an r-coloured vowel [ɚ], as in further[ˈfɚðɚ] (phonemically /ˈfɜrðər/, which in RP is realised as [ˈfəːðə] (phonemically /ˈfɜːðə/).[151]


An English syllable includes a syllable nucleus consisting of a vowel sound. Syllable onset and coda (start and end) are optional. A syllable can start with up to three consonant sounds, as in sprint /sprɪnt/, and end with up to four, as in texts /teksts/. This gives an English syllable the following structure, (CCC)V(CCCC) where C represents a consonant and V a vowel; the word strengths /strɛŋkθs/ is thus an example of the most complex syllable possible in English. The consonants that may appear together in onsets or codas are restricted, as is the order in which they may appear. Onsets can only have four types of consonant clusters: a stop and approximant, as in play; a voiceless fricative and approximant, as in fly or slys and a voiceless stop, as in stay; and s, a voiceless stop, and an approximant, as in string.[152] Clusters of nasal and stop are only allowed in codas. Clusters of obstruents always agree invoicing, and clusters of sibilants and of plosives with the same point of articulation are prohibited. Furthermore, several consonants have limited distributions: /h/ can only occur in syllable-initial position, and /ŋ/ only in syllable-final position.[153]

Stress, rhythm and intonation

Stress plays an important role in English. Certain syllables are stressed, while others are unstressed. Stress is a combination of duration, intensity, vowel quality, and sometimes changes in pitch. Stressed syllables are pronounced longer and louder than unstressed syllables, and vowels in unstressed syllables are frequently reduced while vowels in stressed syllables are not.[154] Some words, primarily short function words but also some modal verbs such as can, have weak and strong forms depending on whether they occur in stressed or non-stressed position within a sentence.

Stress in English is phonemic, and some pairs of words are distinguished by stress. For instance, the word contract is stressed on the first syllable (/ˈkɒntrækt/ KON-trakt) when used as a noun, but on the last syllable (/kənˈtrækt/ kən-TRAKT) for most meanings (for example, "reduce in size") when used as a verb.[155][156][157] Here stress is connected to vowel reduction: in the noun "contract" the first syllable is stressed and has the unreduced vowel /ɒ/, but in the verb "contract" the first syllable is unstressed and its vowel is reduced to /ə/. Stress is also used to distinguish between words and phrases, so that a compound word receives a single stress unit, but the corresponding phrase has two: e.g. a burnout (/ˈbɜːrnt/) versus to burn out (/ˈbɜːrn ˈt/), and a hotdog (/ˈhɒtdɒɡ/) versus a hot dog (/ˈhɒt ˈdɒɡ/).[158]

In terms of rhythm, English is generally described as a stress-timed language, meaning that the amount of time between stressed syllables tends to be equal. Stressed syllables are pronounced longer, but unstressed syllables (syllables between stresses) are shortened. Vowels in unstressed syllables are shortened as well, and vowel shortening causes changes in vowel quality: vowel reduction.

Regional variation

Dialects and low vowels
Lexical set RP GA Can Sound change
THOUGHT /ɔː/ /ɔ/ or /ɑ/ /ɑ/ cotcaught merger
CLOTH /ɒ/ lotcloth split
LOT /ɑ/ fatherbother merger
PALM /ɑː/
BATH /æ/ /æ/ trapbath split
TRAP /æ/

Varieties of English vary the most in pronunciation of vowels. The best known national varieties used as standards for education in non English-speaking countries are British (BrE) and American (AmE). Countries such as Canada, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand and South Africa have their own standard varieties which are less often used as standards for education internationally. Some differences between the various dialects are shown in the table "Varieties of Standard English and their features".[159]

English has undergone many historical sound changes, some of them affecting all varieties, and others affecting only a few. Most standard varieties are affected by the Great Vowel Shift, which changed the pronunciation of long vowels, but a few dialects have slightly different results. In North America, a number of chain shifts such as the Northern Cities Vowel Shift and Canadian Shift have produced very different vowel landscapes in some regional accents.

Some dialects have fewer or more consonant phonemes and phones than the standard varieties. Some conservative varieties like Scottish English have a voiceless [ʍ] sound in whine that contrasts with the voiced [w] in wine, but most other dialects pronounce both words with voiced [w], a dialect feature called winewhine merger. The unvoiced velar fricative sound /x/ is found in Scottish English, which distinguishes loch /lɔx/ from lock /lɔk/. Accents like Cockney with "h-dropping" lack the glottal fricative /h/, and dialects with th-stopping and th-fronting like African American Vernacular and Estuary English do not have the dental fricatives /θ, ð/, but replace them with dental or alveolar stops /t, d/ or labiodental fricatives /f, v/.[160][161] Other changes affecting the phonology of local varieties are processes such as yod-dropping, yod-coalescence, and reduction of consonant clusters.

General American and Received Pronunciation vary in their pronunciation of historical /r/ after a vowel at the end of a syllable (in the syllable coda). GA is a rhotic dialect, meaning that it pronounces /r/ at the end of a syllable, but RP is non-rhotic, meaning that it loses /r/ in that position. English dialects are classified as rhotic or non-rhotic depending on whether they elide /r/ like RP or keep it like GA.[162]

There is complex dialectal variation in words with the open front and open back vowels /æ ɑː ɒ ɔː/. These four vowels are only distinguished in RP, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. In GA, these vowels merge to three /æ ɑ ɔ/,[163] and in Canadian English, they merge to two /æ ɑ/.[164] In addition, the words that have each vowel vary by dialect. The table "Dialects and open vowels" shows this variation with lexical sets in which these sounds occur.


As is typical of an Indo-European language, English follows accusative morphosyntactic alignment. Unlike other Indo-European languages though, English has largely abandoned the inflectional case system in favor of analytic constructions. Only the personal pronouns retain morphological case more strongly than any other word class. English distinguishes at least seven major word classes: verbs, nouns, adjectives, adverbs, determiners (including articles), prepositions, and conjunctions. Some analyses add pronouns as a class separate from nouns, and subdivide conjunctions into subordinators and coordinators, and add the class of interjections.[165] English also has a rich set of auxiliary verbs, such as have and do, expressing the categories of mood and aspect. Questions are marked by do-support, wh-movement (fronting of question words beginning with wh-) and word order inversion with some verbs.

Some traits typical of Germanic languages persist in English, such as the distinction between irregularly inflected strong stems inflected through ablaut (i.e. changing the vowel of the stem, as in the pairs speak/spoke and foot/feet) and weak stems inflected through affixation (such as love/lovedhand/hands). Vestiges of the case and gender system are found in the pronoun system (he/him, who/whom) and in the inflection of the copula verb to be.

The seven word classes are exemplified in this sample sentence:[166]

The chairman of the committee and the loquacious politician clashed violently when the meeting started.
Det. Noun Prep. Det. Noun Conj. Det. Adj. Noun Verb Advb. Conj. Det. Noun Verb

Nouns and noun phrases

English nouns are only inflected for number and possession. New nouns can be formed through derivation or compounding. They are semantically divided into proper nouns (names) and common nouns. Common nouns are in turn divided into concrete and abstract nouns, and grammatically into count nouns and mass nouns.[167]

Most count nouns are inflected for plural number through the use of the plural suffix -s, but a few nouns have irregular plural forms. Mass nouns can only be pluralised through the use of a count noun classifier, e.g. one loaf of breadtwo loaves of bread.[168]

Regular plural formation:

Singular: cat, dog
Plural: cats, dogs

Irregular plural formation:

Singular: man, woman, foot, fish, ox, knife, mouse
Plural: men, women, feet, fish, oxen, knives, mice

Possession can be expressed either by the possessive enclitic -s (also traditionally called a genitive suffix), or by the preposition of. Historically the -s possessive has been used for animate nouns, whereas the ofpossessive has been reserved for inanimate nouns. Today this distinction is less clear, and many speakers use -s also with inanimates. Orthographically the possessive -s is separated from the noun root with an apostrophe.

Possessive constructions:

With -s: The woman's husband's child
With of: The child of the husband of the woman

Nouns can form noun phrases (NPs) where they are the syntactic head of the words that depend on them such as determiners, quantifiers, conjunctions or adjectives.[169] Noun phrases can be short, such as the man, composed only of a determiner and a noun. They can also include modifiers such as adjectives (e.g. redtallall) and specifiers such as determiners (e.g. thethat). But they can also tie together several nouns into a single long NP, using conjunctions such as and, or prepositions such as with, e.g. the tall man with the long red trousers and his skinny wife with the spectacles (this NP uses conjunctions, prepositions, specifiers, and modifiers). Regardless of length, an NP functions as a syntactic unit. For example, the possessive enclitic can, in cases which do not lead to ambiguity, follow the entire noun phrase, as in The President of India's wife, where the enclitic follows India and not President.

The class of determiners is used to specify the noun they precede in terms of definiteness, where the marks a definite noun and a or an an indefinite one. A definite noun is assumed by the speaker to be already known by the interlocutor, whereas an indefinite noun is not specified as being previously known. Quantifiers, which include onemanysome and all, are used to specify the noun in terms of quantity or number. The noun must agree with the number of the determiner, e.g. one man (sg.) but all men (pl.). Determiners are the first constituents in a noun phrase.[170]


Adjectives modify a noun by providing additional information about their referents. In English, adjectives come before the nouns they modify and after determiners.[171] In Modern English, adjectives are not inflected, and they do not agree in form with the noun they modify, as adjectives in most other Indo-European languages do. For example, in the phrases the slender boy, and many slender girls, the adjective slender does not change form to agree with either the number or gender of the noun.

Some adjectives are inflected for degree of comparison, with the positive degree unmarked, the suffix -er marking the comparative, and -est marking the superlative: a small boythe boy is smaller than the girlthat boy is the smallest. Some adjectives have irregular comparative and superlative forms, such as goodbetter, and best. Other adjectives have comparatives formed by periphrastic constructions, with the adverb more marking the comparative, and most marking the superlative: happier or more happythe happiest or most happy.[172] There is some variation among speakers regarding which adjectives use inflected or periphrastic comparison, and some studies have shown a tendency for the periphrastic forms to become more common at the expense of the inflected form.[173]

Pronouns, case, and person

English pronouns conserve many traits of case and gender inflection. The personal pronouns retain a difference between subjective and objective case in most persons (I/me, he/him, she/her, we/us, they/them) as well as a gender and animateness distinction in the third person singular (distinguishing he/she/it). The subjective case corresponds to the Old English nominative case, and the objective case is used both in the sense of the previous accusative case (in the role of patient, or direct object of a transitive verb), and in the sense of the Old English dative case (in the role of a recipient or indirect object of a transitive verb).[174][175] Subjective case is used when the pronoun is the subject of a finite clause, and otherwise, the objective case is used.[176] While grammarians such as Henry Sweet[177] and Otto Jespersen[178] noted that the English cases did not correspond to the traditional Latin based system, some contemporary grammars, for example Huddleston & Pullum (2002), retain traditional labels for the cases, calling them nominative and accusative cases respectively.

Possessive pronouns exist in dependent and independent forms; the dependent form functions as a determiner specifying a noun (as in my chair), while the independent form can stand alone as if it were a noun (e.g. the chair is mine).[179] The English system of grammatical person no longer has a distinction between formal and informal pronouns of address (the old 2nd person singular familiar pronoun thou acquired a pejorative or inferior tinge of meaning and was abandoned), and the forms for 2nd person plural and singular are identical except in the reflexive form. Some dialects have introduced innovative 2nd person plural pronouns such as y'all found in Southern American English and African American (Vernacular) English or youse and ye found in Irish English.

English personal pronouns
Person Subjective case Objective case Dependent possessive Independent possessive Reflexive
1st p. sg. I me my mine myself
2nd p. sg. you you your yours yourself
3rd p. sg. he/she/it him/her/it his/her/its his/hers/its himself/herself/itself
1st p. pl. we us our ours ourselves
2nd p. pl. you you your yours yourselves
3rd p. pl they them their theirs themselves

Pronouns are used to refer to entities deictically or anaphorically. A deictic pronoun points to some person or object by identifying it relative to the speech situation—for example, the pronoun I identifies the speaker, and the pronoun you, the addressee. Anaphorical pronouns such as that refer back to an entity already mentioned or assumed by the speaker to be known by the audience, for example in the sentence I already told you that. The reflexive pronouns are used when the oblique argument is identical to the subject of a phrase (e.g. "he sent it to himself" or "she braced herself for impact").[180]


Prepositional phrases (PP) are phrases composed of a preposition and one or more nouns, e.g. with the dogfor my friendto schoolin England. Prepositions have a wide range of uses in English. They are used to describe movement, place, and other relations between different entities, but they also have many syntactic uses such as introducing complement clauses and oblique arguments of verbs. For example, in the phrase I gave it to him, the preposition to marks the recipient, or Indirect Object of the verb to give. Traditionally words were only considered prepositions if they governed the case of the noun they preceded, for example causing the pronouns to use the objective rather than subjective form, "with her", "to me", "for us". But some contemporary grammars such as that of Huddleston & Pullum (2002:598–600) no longer consider government of case to be the defining feature of the class of prepositions, rather defining prepositions as words that can function as the heads of prepositional phrases.

Verbs and verb phrases

English verbs are inflected for tense and aspect and marked for agreement with third person singular subject. Only the copula verb to be is still inflected for agreement with the plural and first and second person subjects.[172] Auxiliary verbs such as have and be are paired with verbs in the infinitive, past, or progressive forms. They form complex tenses, aspects, and moods. Auxiliary verbs differ from other verbs in that they can be followed by the negation, and in that they can occur as the first constituent in a question sentence.[181][182]

Most verbs have six inflectional forms. The primary forms are a plain present, a third person singular present, and a preterite (past) form. The secondary forms are a plain form used for the infinitive, a gerund-participle and a past participle.[183] The copula verb to be is the only verb to retain some of its original conjugation, and takes different inflectional forms depending on the subject. The first person present tense form is am, the third person singular form is and the form are is used second person singular and all three plurals. The only verb past participle is been and its gerund-participle is being.

English inflectional forms
Inflection Strong Regular
Plain present take love
3rd person sg.
takes loves
Preterite took loved
Plain (infinitive) take love
Gerund–participle taking loving
Past participle taken loved

Tense, aspect and mood

English has two primary tenses, past (preterit) and non-past. The preterit is inflected by using the preterit form of the verb, which for the regular verbs includes the suffix -ed, and for the strong verbs either the suffix -t or a change in the stem vowel. The non-past form is unmarked except in the third person singular, which takes the suffix -s.[181]

  Present Preterite
First person I run I ran
Second person You run You ran
Third person John runs John ran

English does not have a morphologised future tense.[184] Futurity of action is expressed periphrastically with one of the auxiliary verbs will or shall.[185] Many varieties also use a near future constructed with the phrasal verb be going to.[186]

First person I will run
Second person You will run
Third person John will run

Further aspectual distinctions are encoded by the use of auxiliary verbs, primarily have and be, which encode the contrast between a perfect and non-perfect past tense (I have run vs. I was running), and compound tenses such as preterite perfect (I had been running) and present perfect (I have been running).[187]

For the expression of mood, English uses a number of modal auxiliaries, such as canmaywillshall and the past tense forms couldmightwouldshould. There is also a subjunctive and an imperative mood, both based on the plain form of the verb (i.e. without the third person singular -s), and which is used in subordinate clauses (e.g. subjunctive: It is important that he run every day; imperative Run!).[185]

An infinitive form, that uses the plain form of the verb and the preposition to, is used for verbal clauses that are syntactically subordinate to a finite verbal clause. Finite verbal clauses are those that are formed around a verb in the present or preterit form. In clauses with auxiliary verbs, they are the finite verbs and the main verb is treated as a subordinate clause. For example, he has to go where only the auxiliary verb have is inflected for time and the main verb to go is in the infinitive, or in a complement clause such as I saw him leave, where the main verb is to see which is in a preterite form, and leave is in the infinitive.

Phrasal verbs

English also makes frequent use of constructions traditionally called phrasal verbs, verb phrases that are made up of a verb root and a preposition or particle which follows the verb. The phrase then functions as a single predicate. In terms of intonation the preposition is fused to the verb, but in writing it is written as a separate word. Examples of phrasal verbs are to get upto ask outto back upto give upto get togetherto hang outto put up with, etc. The phrasal verb frequently has a highly idiomatic meaning that is more specialised and restricted than what can be simply extrapolated from the combination of verb and preposition complement (e.g. lay off meaning terminate someone's employment).[188] In spite of the idiomatic meaning, some grammarians, including Huddleston & Pullum (2002:274), do not consider this type of construction to form a syntactic constituent and hence refrain from using the term "phrasal verb". Instead, they consider the construction simply to be a verb with a prepositional phrase as its syntactic complement, i.e. he woke up in the morning and he ran up in the mountains are syntactically equivalent.


The function of adverbs is to modify the action or event described by the verb by providing additional information about the manner in which it occurs. Many adverbs are derived from adjectives with the suffix -ly, but not all, and many speakers tend to omit the suffix in the most commonly used adverbs. For example, in the phrase the woman walked quickly the adverb quickly derived from the adjective quick describes the woman's way of walking. Some commonly used adjectives have irregular adverbial forms, such as good which has the adverbial form well.


In the English sentence The cat sat on the mat, the subject is the cat (a NP), the verb is sat, and on the mat is a prepositional phrase (composed of an NP the mat, and headed by the preposition on). The tree describes the structure of the sentence.

Modern English syntax language is moderately analytic.[189] It has developed features such as modal verbs and word order as resources for conveying meaning. Auxiliary verbsmark constructions such as questions, negative polarity, the passive voice and progressive aspect.

Basic constituent order

English word order has moved from the Germanic verb-second (V2) word order to being almost exclusively subject–verb–object (SVO).[190] The combination of SVO order and use of auxiliary verbs often creates clusters of two or more verbs at the centre of the sentence, such as he had hoped to try to open it.

In most sentences, English only marks grammatical relations through word order.[191] The subject constituent precedes the verb and the object constituent follows it. The example below demonstrates how the grammatical roles of each constituent is marked only by the position relative to the verb:

The dog bites the man
The man bites the dog

An exception is found in sentences where one of the constituents is a pronoun, in which case it is doubly marked, both by word order and by case inflection, where the subject pronoun precedes the verb and takes the subjective case form, and the object pronoun follows the verb and takes the objective case form. The example below demonstrates this double marking in a sentence where both object and subject is represented with a third person singular masculine pronoun:

He hit him

Indirect objects (IO) of ditransitive verbs can be placed either as the first object in a double object construction (S V IO O), such as I gave Jane the book or in a prepositional phrase, such as I gave the book to Jane [192]

Clause syntax

In English a sentence may be composed of one or more clauses, that may, in turn, be composed of one or more phrases (e.g. Noun Phrases, Verb Phrases, and Prepositional Phrases). A clause is built around a verb and includes its constituents, such as any NPs and PPs. Within a sentence, one clause is always the main clause (or matrix clause) whereas other clauses are subordinate to it. Subordinate clauses may function as arguments of the verb in the main clause. For example, in the phrase I think (that) you are lying, the main clause is headed by the verb think, the subject is I, but the object of the phrase is the subordinate clause (that) you are lying. The subordinating conjunction that shows that the clause that follows is a subordinate clause, but it is often omitted.[193] Relative clauses are clauses that function as a modifier or specifier to some constituent in the main clause: For example, in the sentence I saw the letter that you received today, the relative clause that you received today specifies the meaning of the word letter, the object of the main clause. Relative clauses can be introduced by the pronouns whowhosewhom and which as well as by that (which can also be omitted.)[194] In contrast to many other Germanic languages there is no major differences between word order in main and subordinate clauses.[195]

Auxiliary verb constructions

English syntax relies on auxiliary verbs for many functions including the expression of tense, aspect, and mood. Auxiliary verbs form main clauses, and the main verbs function as heads of a subordinate clause of the auxiliary verb. For example, in the sentence the dog did not find its bone, the clause find its bone is the complement of the negated verb did not. Subject–auxiliary inversion is used in many constructions, including focus, negation, and interrogative constructions.

The verb do can be used as an auxiliary even in simple declarative sentences, where it usually serves to add emphasis, as in "I did shut the fridge." However, in the negated and inverted clauses referred to above, it is used because the rules of English syntax permit these constructions only when an auxiliary is present. Modern English does not allow the addition of the negating adverb not to an ordinary finite lexical verb, as in *I know not—it can only be added to an auxiliary (or copular) verb, hence if there is no other auxiliary present when negation is required, the auxiliary do is used, to produce a form like I do not (don't) know. The same applies in clauses requiring inversion, including most questions—inversion must involve the subject and an auxiliary verb, so it is not possible to say *Know you him?; grammatical rules require Do you know him?[196]

Negation is done with the adverb not, which precedes the main verb and follows an auxiliary verb. A contracted form of not -n't can be used as an enclitic attaching to auxiliary verbs and to the copula verb to be. Just as with questions, many negative constructions require the negation to occur with do-support, thus in Modern English I don't know him is the correct answer to the question Do you know him?, but not *I know him not, although this construction may be found in older English.[197]

Passive constructions also use auxiliary verbs. A passive construction rephrases an active construction in such a way that the object of the active phrase becomes the subject of the passive phrase, and the subject of the active phrase is either omitted or demoted to a role as an oblique argument introduced in a prepositional phrase. They are formed by using the past participle either with the auxiliary verb to be or to get, although not all varieties of English allow the use of passives with get. For example, putting the sentence she sees him into the passive becomes he is seen (by her), or he gets seen (by her).[198]


Both yes–no questions and wh-questions in English are mostly formed using subject–auxiliary inversion (Am I going tomorrow?Where can we eat?), which may require do-support (Do you like her?Where did he go?). In most cases, interrogative words (wh-words; e.g. whatwhowherewhenwhyhow) appear in a fronted position. For example, in the question What did you see?, the word what appears as the first constituent despite being the grammatical object of the sentence. (When the wh-word is the subject or forms part of the subject, no inversion occurs: Who saw the cat?.) Prepositional phrases can also be fronted when they are the question's theme, e.g. To whose house did you go last night?. The personal interrogative pronoun who is the only interrogative pronoun to still show inflection for case, with the variant whom serving as the objective case form, although this form may be going out of use in many contexts.[199]

Discourse level syntax

While English is a subject-prominent language, at the discourse level it tends to use a topic-comment structure, where the known information (topic) precedes the new information (comment). Because of the strict SVO syntax, the topic of a sentence generally has to be the grammatical subject of the sentence. In cases where the topic is not the grammatical subject of the sentence, frequently the topic is promoted to subject position through syntactic means. One way of doing this is through a passive construction, the girl was stung by the bee. Another way is through a cleft sentence where the main clause is demoted to be a complement clause of a copula sentence with a dummy subject such as it or there, e.g. it was the girl that the bee stungthere was a girl who was stung by a bee.[200] Dummy subjects are also used in constructions where there is no grammatical subject such as with impersonal verbs (e.g., it is raining) or in existential clauses (there are many cars on the street). Through the use of these complex sentence constructions with informationally vacuous subjects, English is able to maintain both a topic-comment sentence structure and a SVO syntax.

Focus constructions emphasise a particular piece of new or salient information within a sentence, generally through allocating the main sentence level stress on the focal constituent. For example, the girl was stung by a bee (emphasising it was a bee and not, for example, a wasp that stung her), or The girl was stung by a bee (contrasting with another possibility, for example that it was the boy).[201] Topic and focus can also be established through syntactic dislocation, either preposing or postposing the item to be focused on relative to the main clause. For example, That girl over there, she was stung by a bee, emphasises the girl by preposition, but a similar effect could be achieved by postposition, she was stung by a bee, that girl over there, where reference to the girl is established as an "afterthought".[202]

Cohesion between sentences is achieved through the use of deictic pronouns as anaphora (e.g. that is exactly what I mean where that refers to some fact known to both interlocutors, or then used to locate the time of a narrated event relative to the time of a previously narrated event).[203] Discourse markers such as ohso or well, also signal the progression of ideas between sentences and help to create cohesion. Discourse markers are often the first constituents in sentences. Discourse markers are also used for stance taking in which speakers position themselves in a specific attitude towards what is being said, for example, no way is that true! (the idiomatic marker no way! expressing disbelief), or boy! I'm hungry (the marker boy expressing emphasis). While discourse markers are particularly characteristic of informal and spoken registers of English, they are also used in written and formal registers.[204]


English is a rich language in terms of vocabulary, containing more synonyms than any other language.[130] There are words which appear on the surface to mean exactly the same thing but which, in fact, have slightly different shades of meaning and must be chosen appropriately if a speaker wants to convey precisely the message intended. It is generally stated that English has around 170,000 words, or 220,000 if obsolete words are counted; this estimate is based on the last full edition of the Oxford English Dictionary from 1989.[205] Over half of these words are nouns, a quarter adjectives, and a seventh verbs. There is one count that puts the English vocabulary at about 1 million words—but that count presumably includes words such as Latin species names, scientific terminology, botanical terms, prefixed and suffixed words, jargon, foreign words of extremely limited English use, and technical acronyms.[13]

Due to its status as an international language, English adopts foreign words quickly, and borrows vocabulary from many other sources. Early studies of English vocabulary by lexicographers, the scholars who formally study vocabulary, compile dictionaries, or both, were impeded by a lack of comprehensive data on actual vocabulary in use from good-quality linguistic corpora,[206] collections of actual written texts and spoken passages. Many statements published before the end of the 20th century about the growth of English vocabulary over time, the dates of first use of various words in English, and the sources of English vocabulary will have to be corrected as new computerised analysis of linguistic corpus data becomes available.[13][207]

Word formation processes

English forms new words from existing words or roots in its vocabulary through a variety of processes. One of the most productive processes in English is conversion,[208] using a word with a different grammatical role, for example using a noun as a verb or a verb as a noun. Another productive word-formation process is nominal compounding,[13][207] producing compound words such as babysitter or ice cream or homesick.[208] A process more common in Old English than in Modern English, but still productive in Modern English, is the use of derivational suffixes (-hood-ness-ing-ility) to derive new words from existing words (especially those of Germanic origin) or stems (especially for words of Latin or Greek origin).

Formation of new words, called neologisms, based on Greek and/or Latin roots (for example television or optometry) is a highly productive process in English and in most modern European languages, so much so that it is often difficult to determine in which language a neologism originated. For this reason, lexicographer Philip Gove attributed many such words to the "international scientific vocabulary" (ISV) when compiling Webster's Third New International Dictionary (1961). Another active word-formation process in English is acronyms,[209] words formed by pronouncing as a single word abbreviations of longer phrases (e.g. NATOlaser).

Word origins

Source languages of English vocabulary[6][210]

English, besides forming new words from existing words and their roots, also borrows words from other languages. This adoption of words from other languages is commonplace in many world languages, but English has been especially open to borrowing of foreign words throughout the last 1,000 years.[211] The most commonly used words in English are West Germanic.[212] The words in English learned first by children as they learn to speak, particularly the grammatical words that dominate the word count of both spoken and written texts, are mainly the Germanic words inherited from the earliest periods of the development of Old English.[13]

But one of the consequences of long language contact between French and English in all stages of their development is that the vocabulary of English has a very high percentage of "Latinate" words (derived from French, especially, and also from Latin and other Romance languages). French words from various periods of the development of French now make up one-third of the vocabulary of English.[213] Words of Old Norse origin have entered the English language primarily from the contact between Old Norse and Old English during colonisation of eastern and northern England. Many of these words are part of English core vocabulary, such as egg and knife.[214]

English has also borrowed many words directly from Latin, the ancestor of the Romance languages, during all stages of its development.[207][13] Many of these words had earlier been borrowed into Latin from Greek. Latin or Greek are still highly productive sources of stems used to form vocabulary of subjects learned in higher education such as the sciences, philosophy, and mathematics.[215] English continues to gain new loanwords and calques ("loan translations") from languages all over the world, and words from languages other than the ancestral Anglo-Saxon language make up about 60% of the vocabulary of English.[216]

English has formal and informal speech registers; informal registers, including child-directed speech, tend to be made up predominantly of words of Anglo-Saxon origin, while the percentage of vocabulary that is of Latinate origin is higher in legal, scientific, and academic texts.[217][218]

English loanwords and calques in other languages

English has a strong influence on the vocabulary of other languages.[213][219] The influence of English comes from such factors as opinion leaders in other countries knowing the English language, the role of English as a world lingua franca, and the large number of books and films that are translated from English into other languages.[220] That pervasive use of English leads to a conclusion in many places that English is an especially suitable language for expressing new ideas or describing new technologies. Among varieties of English, it is especially American English that influences other languages.[221] Some languages, such as Chinese, write words borrowed from English mostly as calques, while others, such as Japanese, readily take in English loanwords written in sound-indicating script.[222] Dubbed films and television programmes are an especially fruitful source of English influence on languages in Europe.[222]

Writing system

Since the ninth century, English has been written in a Latin alphabet (also called Roman alphabet). Earlier Old English texts in Anglo-Saxon runes are only short inscriptions. The great majority of literary works in Old English that survive to today are written in the Roman alphabet.[32] The modern English alphabet contains 26 letters of the Latin script: a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, m, n, o, p, q, r, s, t, u, v, w, x, y, z (which also have capitalforms: A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, V, W, X, Y, Z).

The spelling system, or orthography, of English is multi-layered, with elements of French, Latin, and Greek spelling on top of the native Germanic system.[223] Further complications have arisen through sound changeswith which the orthography has not kept pace.[44] Compared to European languages for which official organisations have promoted spelling reforms, English has spelling that is a less consistent indicator of pronunciation, and standard spellings of words that are more difficult to guess from knowing how a word is pronounced.[224] There are also systematic spelling differences between British and American English. These situations have prompted proposals for spelling reform in English.[225]

Although letters and speech sounds do not have a one-to-one correspondence in standard English spelling, spelling rules that take into account syllable structure, phonetic changes in derived words, and word accent are reliable for most English words.[226] Moreover, standard English spelling shows etymological relationships between related words that would be obscured by a closer correspondence between pronunciation and spelling, for example the words photographphotography, and photographic,[226] or the words electricity and electrical. While few scholars agree with Chomsky and Halle (1968) that conventional English orthography is "near-optimal",[223] there is a rationale for current English spelling patterns.[227] The standard orthography of English is the most widely used writing system in the world.[228] Standard English spelling is based on a graphomorphemic segmentation of words into written clues of what meaningful units make up each word.[229]

Readers of English can generally rely on the correspondence between spelling and pronunciation to be fairly regular for letters or digraphs used to spell consonant sounds. The letters bdfhjklmnprstvwyz represent, respectively, the phonemes /b, d, f, h, dʒ, k, l, m, n, p, r, s, t, v, w, j, z/. The letters c and g normally represent /k/ and /ɡ/, but there is also a soft c pronounced /s/, and a soft g pronounced /dʒ/. The differences in the pronunciations of the letters c and g are often signalled by the following letters in standard English spelling. Digraphs used to represent phonemes and phoneme sequences include ch for /tʃ/sh for /ʃ/thfor /θ/ or /ð/ng for /ŋ/qu for /kw/, and ph for /f/ in Greek-derived words. The single letter x is generally pronounced as /z/ in word-initial position and as /ks/ otherwise. There are exceptions to these generalisations, often the result of loanwords being spelled according to the spelling patterns of their languages of origin[226] or proposals by pedantic scholars in the early period of Modern English to mistakenly follow the spelling patterns of Latin for English words of Germanic origin.[230]

For the vowel sounds of the English language, however, correspondences between spelling and pronunciation are more irregular. There are many more vowel phonemes in English than there are single vowel letters (aeiouwy). As a result, some "long vowels" are often indicated by combinations of letters (like the oa in boat, the ow in how, and the ay in stay), or the historically based silent e (as in note and cake).[227]

The consequence of this complex orthographic history is that learning to read can be challenging in English. It can take longer for school pupils to become independently fluent readers of English than of many other languages, including Italian, Spanish, and German.[231] Nonetheless, there is an advantage for learners of English reading in learning the specific sound-symbol regularities that occur in the standard English spellings of commonly used words.[226] Such instruction greatly reduces the risk of children experiencing reading difficulties in English.[232][233] Making primary school teachers more aware of the primacy of morpheme representation in English may help learners learn more efficiently to read and write English.[234]

English writing also includes a system of punctuation marks that is similar to those used in most alphabetic languages around the world. The purpose of punctuation is to mark meaningful grammatical relationships in sentences to aid readers in understanding a text and to indicate features important for reading a text aloud.[235]

Dialects, accents, and varieties

Dialectologists identify many English dialects, which usually refer to regional varieties that differ from each other in terms of patterns of grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation. The pronunciation of particular areas distinguishes dialects as separate regional accents. The major native dialects of English are often divided by linguists into the two extremely general categories of British English (BrE) and North American English(NAE).[236] There also exists a third common major grouping of English varieties: Southern Hemisphere English, the most prominent being Australian and New Zealand English.

United Kingdom and Ireland

Map showing the main dialect regions in the UK and Ireland

As the place where English first evolved, the British Isles, and particularly England, are home to the most diverse dialects. Within the United Kingdom, the Received Pronunciation(RP), an educated dialect of South East England, is traditionally used as the broadcast standard and is considered the most prestigious of the British dialects. The spread of RP (also known as BBC English) through the media has caused many traditional dialects of rural England to recede, as youths adopt the traits of the prestige variety instead of traits from local dialects. At the time of the Survey of English Dialects, grammar and vocabulary differed across the country, but a process of lexical attrition has led most of this variation to disappear.[237]

Nonetheless this attrition has mostly affected dialectal variation in grammar and vocabulary, and in fact, only 3 percent of the English population actually speak RP, the remainder speaking regional accents and dialects with varying degrees of RP influence.[238] There is also variability within RP, particularly along class lines between Upper and Middle-class RP speakers and between native RP speakers and speakers who adopt RP later in life.[239] Within Britain, there is also considerable variation along lines of social class, and some traits though exceedingly common are considered "non-standard" and are associated with lower class speakers and identities. An example of this is H-dropping, which was historically a feature of lower-class London English, particularly Cockney, and can now be heard in the local accents of most parts of England—yet it remains largely absent in broadcasting and among the upper crust of British society.[240]

English in England can be divided into four major dialect regions, Southwest English, South East English, Midlands English, and Northern English. Within each of these regions several local subdialects exist: Within the Northern region, there is a division between the Yorkshire dialects, and the Geordie dialect spoken in Northumbria around Newcastle, and the Lancashire dialects with local urban dialects in Liverpool (Scouse) and Manchester (Mancunian). Having been the centre of Danish occupation during the Viking Invasions, Northern English dialects, particularly the Yorkshire dialect, retain Norse features not found in other English varieties.[241]

Since the 15th century, southeastern England varieties centred around London, which has been the centre from which dialectal innovations have spread to other dialects. In London, the Cockney dialect was traditionally used by the lower classes, and it was long a socially stigmatised variety. The spread of Cockney features across the south-east led the media to talk of Estuary English as a new dialect, but the notion was criticised by many linguists on the grounds that London had influencing neighbouring regions throughout history.[242][243][244] Traits that have spread from London in recent decades include the use of intrusive R (drawing is pronounced drawring /ˈdrɔːrɪŋ/), t-glottalisation (Potter is pronounced with a glottal stop as Po'er /poʔʌ/), and the pronunciation of th- as /f/ (thanks pronounced fanks) or /v/ (bother pronounced bover). [245]

Scots is today considered a separate language from English, but it has its origins in early Northern Middle English[246] and developed and changed during its history with influence from other sources, particularly Scots Gaelic and Old Norse. Scots itself has a number of regional dialects. And in addition to Scots, Scottish English are the varieties of Standard English spoken in Scotland, most varieties are Northern English accents, with some influence from Scots.[247]

In Ireland, various forms of English have been spoken since the Norman invasions of the 11th century. In County Wexford, in the area surrounding Dublin, two extinct dialects known as Forth and Bargy and Fingallian developed as offshoots from Early Middle English, and were spoken until the 19th century. Modern Irish English, however, has its roots in English colonisation in the 17th century. Today Irish English is divided into Ulster English, the Northern Ireland dialect with strong influence from Scots, as well as various dialects of the Republic of Ireland. Like Scottish and most North American accents, almost all Irish accents preserve the rhoticity which has been lost in the dialects influenced by RP.[19][248]

North America

North American English is fairly homogeneous compared to British English. Today, American accent variation is often increasing at the regional level and decreasing at the very local level,[249] though most Americans still speak within a phonological continuum of similar accents,[250] known collectively as General American (GA), with differences hardly noticed even among Americans themselves (such as Midland and Western American English).[251][252][253] In most American and Canadian English dialects, rhoticity (or r-fulness) is dominant, with non-rhoticity (r-dropping) becoming associated with lower prestige and social class especially after World War II; this contrasts with the situation in England, where non-rhoticity has become the standard.[254]

Separate from GA are American dialects with clearly distinct sound systems, historically including Southern American English, English of the coastal Northeast (famously including Eastern New England English and New York City English), and African American Vernacular English, all of which are historically non-rhotic. Canadian English, except for the Atlantic provinces and perhaps Quebec, may be classified under GA as well, but it often shows the raising of the vowels // and //before voiceless consonants, as well as distinct norms for written and pronunciation standards.[255]

In Southern American English, the most populous American "accent group" outside of GA,[256] rhoticity now strongly prevails, replacing the region's historical non-rhotic prestige.[257][258][259] Southern accents are colloquially described as a "drawl" or "twang,"[260] being recognised most readily by the Southern Vowel Shift initiated by glide-deleting in the /aɪ/ vowel (e.g. pronouncing spy almost like spa), the "Southern breaking" of several front pure vowels into a gliding vowel or even two syllables (e.g. pronouncing the word "press" almost like "pray-us"),[261] the pin–pen merger, and other distinctive phonological, grammatical, and lexical features, many of which are actually recent developments of the 19th century or later.[262]

Today spoken primarily by working- and middle-class African Americans, African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) is also largely non-rhotic and likely originated among enslaved Africans and African Americans influenced primarily by the non-rhotic, non-standard older Southern dialects. A minority of linguists,[263] contrarily, propose that AAVE mostly traces back to African languages spoken by the slaves who had to develop a pidgin or Creole English to communicate with slaves of other ethnic and linguistic origins.[264] AAVE's important commonalities with Southern accents suggests it developed into a highly coherent and homogeneous variety in the 19th or early 20th century. AAVE is commonly stigmatised in North America as a form of "broken" or "uneducated" English, as are white Southern accents, but linguists today recognise both as fully developed varieties of English with their own norms shared by a large speech community.[265][266]

Australia and New Zealand

Africa, the Caribbean, and South Asia

Nigerian English is a dialect of English spoken in Nigeria.[276] It is based on British English, but in recent years, because of influence from the United States, some words of American English origin have made it into Nigerian English. Additionally, some new words and collocations have emerged from the language, which come from the need to express concepts specific to the culture of the nation (e.g. senior wife). Over 150 million population of Nigerians speak English.[277]

Several varieties of English are also spoken in the Caribbean Islands that were colonial possessions of Britain, including Jamaica, and the Leeward and Windward Islands and Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, the Cayman Islands, and Belize. Each of these areas are home both to a local variety of English and a local English based creole, combining English and African languages. The most prominent varieties are Jamaican English and Jamaican Creole. In Central America, English based creoles are spoken in on the Caribbean coasts of Nicaragua and Panama.[278] Locals are often fluent both in the local English variety and the local creole languages and code-switching between them is frequent, indeed another way to conceptualise the relationship between Creole and Standard varieties is to see a spectrum of social registers with the Creole forms serving as "basilect" and the more RP-like forms serving as the "acrolect", the most formal register.[279]

Most Caribbean varieties are based on British English and consequently, most are non-rhotic, except for formal styles of Jamaican English which are often rhotic. Jamaican English differs from RP in its vowel inventory, which has a distinction between long and short vowels rather than tense and lax vowels as in Standard English. The diphthongs /ei/ and /ou/ are monophthongs [eː] and [oː] or even the reverse diphthongs [ie] and [uo](e.g. bay and boat pronounced [bʲeː] and [bʷoːt]). Often word-final consonant clusters are simplified so that "child" is pronounced [t͡ʃail] and "wind" [win].[280][281][282]

As a historical legacy, Indian English tends to take RP as its ideal, and how well this ideal is realised in an individual's speech reflects class distinctions among Indian English speakers. Indian English accents are marked by the pronunciation of phonemes such as /t/ and /d/ (often pronounced with retroflex articulation as [ʈ] and [ɖ]) and the replacement of /θ/ and /ð/ with dentals [t̪] and [d̪]. Sometimes Indian English speakers may also use spelling based pronunciations where the silent ⟨h⟩ found in words such as ghost is pronounced as an Indian voiced aspirated stop [ɡʱ].[283]


  1. ^ Oxford Learner's Dictionary 2015, Entry: English – Pronunciation.
  2. a b Crystal 2006, pp. 424–426.
  3. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Standard English". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  4. ^ Crystal 2003a, p. 6.
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Gordon, Elizabeth; Campbell, Lyle; Hay, Jennifer; Maclagan, Margaret; Sudbury, Angela; Trudgill, Peter (2004). New Zealand English: its origins and evolution. Studies in English Language. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-10895-9.
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Graddol, David (2006). English Next: Why global English may mean the end of 'English as a Foreign Language' (PDF). The British Council. Archived from the original (PDF) on 12 February 2015. Retrieved 7 February2015. Lay summary – ELT Journal (7 February 2015).
Graddol, David (2010). English Next India: The future of English in India(PDF). The British Council. ISBN 978-0-86355-627-2. Archived from the original (PDF) on 12 February 2015. Retrieved 7 February 2015. Lay summary – ELT Journal (7 February 2015).
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